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Danske Bank Schools' Cup: Lurgan ready to seize day

 

By Michael Sadlier

Arriving at this point with a win behind them has been invaluable for Lurgan College's self-belief, and this has been boosted by also having home advantage in tomorrow's third round Danske Bank Schools' Cup tie against a strong Down High School side (kick-off 10.30am).

The college managed to see off Larne Grammar in the last round and, though it was by no means a convincing performance, they came through it and at least have already had a taste of the ratcheted-up tension which cup rugby is all about, while tomorrow's opponents have yet to acquaint themselves with his year's competition.

Though Down High are favourites to progress, the Co Armagh school - who made it to one Schools' Cup final way back in 1934 when they lost to RBAI - are ready and willing to do battle and have some reasonable form behind them.

"We know how hard it will be," said head coach Kyle McCallan.

"But we've been very competitive in all our matches and we went down to Larne, I suppose, expecting to get the win but they put it up to us.

"Even so, any result away from home in a first run-out in the cup is a good result," added the well-known former Ireland cricket captain, who joined the school as head of PE in September 2016.

"It really is different to playing friendlies, there is definitely added pressure there."

McCallan also points out that the squad he has at his disposal is a reasonably sound one, which is a notable achievement by a school without a sizeable playing pool.

"They're a good bunch, and a fairly talented bunch too," he stated.

"Albeit our fixture list is a bit of a mixture but we've only lost a couple of games to teams that would be deemed to be a bit ahead of us potentially in the draw, namely Dungannon and Omagh.

"So we've done fairly well overall and we're pretty pleased with the progress the squad has made," he added.

McCallan's philosophy is to not only grow the game at the school - which caters for pupils from 14 upwards, with many coming from Lurgan Junior High School - but also encourage those playing to continue being involved in rugby after they have left.

"What we stand for is slightly different in that we want the boys to excel individually and collectively, and we then want them to, when they leave school, go on to Lurgan Rugby Club or, if they are studying across the water or in Belfast, to just keep playing the game," he said.

"What we're trying to do is foster an enjoyment and love of the game."

Though his resources are limited when it comes to the numbers playing, the school still put out three senior teams and a Medallion side.

"We are small in number, with a total of around 190 boys in the school across the four year groups," he said.

"Those who play regularly would see us have around about 80 boys. As a consequence we don't have the depth other schools have."

Even so, Lurgan are not without ambition, and there is a clear desire to progress in either the Cup or its subsidiary competitions. Indeed, the school made the Schools' Trophy final in 2015 - they actually won it back in 2004 - where they lost to Dungannon.

The squad possess a core of talented players, with number eight and skipper Reuben McCreery and flanker Rory Burns - both in their last year - being huge presences.

Out-half Jack Maxwell is another player of notable quality and, though he too leaves this year, most of the backline will return for next season.

Other notables include prop Ben Hunter - last year's hooker - and lock Matthew McConaghy, while three of last year's Medallion team - hooker Luke Forsyth, flanker Ewen Mulligan and centre Ryan Holmes - have become first team regulars.

McCallan, who played rugby at Ballyclare High and the University of Ulster before fully focusing on cricket, is assisted by Rob Logan, while Geoff Caldwell and Trevor Carruthers look after the Medallion side with strength and conditioning provided by Paul Heasley.

Much is going on away from the Schools' Cup as the college are also planning a tour to Vancouver in the summer, with a trip to South Africa in the pipeline for 2020.

Work is also being done with Lurgan Rugby Club, and there are already strong ties with the Junior High School, with the idea being to bring further growth to the game at all levels.

As McCallan admits, it is a challenge, and yet an enjoyable one which has been matched by the enthusiasm of the current senior and Medallion squads.

"We're climbing the ladder and I think it's fair to say that we're certainly more successful now than we were before which is success in itself," he said.

And as for tomorrow's game, the head coach is adamant that, whatever the outcome, progress will keep on being made.

"If we play to our potential and beat Down High that would be fabulous," he said.

"And if we come out the wrong side, we'll still be very proud of the lads but we'll also feel we can have a run in one of the subsidiary competitions," he added.

"Of course we aspire to win and be successful, but we're also about providing the boys with an experience which will stand them in good stead as they go forward in life."

All in all, a very sound philosophy.

Belfast Telegraph

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