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Danske Bank Schools' Cup: Dungannon target upset of the cup as Wallace come to Tyrone

 

By Michael Sadlier

All the hard work is showing signs of delivering healthy dividends both on and off the pitch at Royal School Dungannon though they admittedly face a pretty rigorous challenge tomorrow morning when hosting Wallace High School in round four of the Danske Bank Ulster Schools' Cup.

Dungannon's 23-7 win at Grosvenor, on what was the Tyrone school's third round entry to this year's cup, was impressive and head coach Gareth McClintock believes that his squad certainly have the belief, bolstered by home advantage against Wallace, to potentially taste the rarefied air of quarter-final rugby.

"It is a big ask for our boys," says McClintock, who is the school's head of Boys' PE and Boys' Sport.

"But the way we're looking at it is that we have one Schools' Cup game under our belt already and personally from playing experience myself (he was a losing finalist with RBAI in 2001), and then from coaching, the first half of a first game in Schools' Cup rugby is always your most nervy.

"So we're hoping that having that out of the way, and getting a victory, along with bringing Wallace here, means that we can maybe rock the boat a bit.

"Really our aim is to provide one of the upsets in the Schools' Cup," adds McClintock who came to the school in 2013.

Though one of the smaller grammar schools, with around 650 pupils, there is a marked desire to build the game up again at the centuries old establishment and make progress.

And though high achievement in the Schools' Cup has proved pretty elusive - indeed Dungannon, surprisingly, have just the one success in the competition which was way back in 1907 - they managed to take ownership of the Schools' Trophy in 2014 before retaining it the following year.

That double success was just what McClintock, who took over rugby at the school from the long-serving Keith Patton, needed to provide a positive back-drop to his tenure and add a new sense of momentum for rugby at the school.

"Winning the Trophy was a great occasion," McClintock recalls.

"And that helped motivate some of the younger players as something to aspire to."

Not that the Royal School were content with that and, though they made progress in the Schools' Cup over the next two seasons, they fell short of claiming further silverware in the Schools' Bowl.

"This year we set out the goal that we didn't want to be in the Trophy or Bowl as we actually wanted to push on in the Cup," says McClintock.

"So we're trying to push it every year really and we knew that we could draw one of the big schools which is what has effectively happened by getting Wallace.

"We have been building our goals in getting out of that second round to third round entry into the Schools' Cup and then aiming to go on to round four.

"I would love for the boys to be consistently competing in quarter-finals and if the draw works out for you maybe even getting to the semi-finals.

"But you've got to be realistic and just see how far we can get and then possibly set that as a marker each year and try to keep competing," explains McClintock who formerly played at Instonians.

The current side is predominantly drawn from boys in their final year which is beneficial in terms of those who have banked previous experience in the competition.

Skipper Calvin Nelson - a cousin of Ulster player and former Dungannon pupil Peter Nelson - is part of a strong back-row which includes Jono Shrestha, while Josh Fegan is an impressive second row.

Adam Evans and Jack Girvan are key components of the side at scrum-half and out-half respectively with Girvan part of the Ulster U18 development squad.

Full-back Luke McMullan is also on the U18 development panel and is a useful goal-kicker while Ben Nicholl and David Maxwell form a skilful midfield unit.

McClintock oversees the side with assistance from Gareth Lucas and Richard Chambers while strength and conditioning sessions are held at Bell Fitness in the town.

There is also a strong link with Dungannon Rugby Club which is also hugely beneficial to the school.

There are around 150 boys playing competitive rugby at the Royal School with nine dedicated staff, including McClintock, overseeing the coaching with, after U12 level, one team being put out until the senior stage.

And at seniors, the school are putting out a third XV for the first time in a number of years with the close ties with the rugby club allowing these players to be involved there when a thirds game is not always possible.

Touring is also key - the school already have strong links with Dilworth school in New Zealand - and they are planning a trip to South Africa this summer for the rugby and girls' hockey squads.

Indeed, rugby for girls at the school is also on a notable uplift as Dungannon are the current holders of the Schools' Cup.

"We have been building the rugby, though particularly at seniors, over the last couple of years," McClintock explains.

"We're a small grammar school but we pride ourselves in how many we can get to participate in rugby and enjoy the game."

Pushing on while building strong foundations for the future are at the core of Royal School Dungannon's ethos.

Danske Bank Schools' Cup R4 fixtures

Enniskillen Royal GS v Ballymena Academy

Bangor GS v Rainey Endowed

Royal School Dungannon v Wallace HS

Campell College v Dalriada

Cambridge House v Royal School Armagh

Sullivan Upper v Down HS

RBAI v Ballyclare HS

Coleraine GS v Methodist College Belfast

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