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Focus key for Sullivan

By Jonathan Bradley

Former Ireland captain Willie Anderson will always be fondly remembered for marching his side towards the All Blacks as they performed their pre-match Haka in 1989, but this Saturday he will be meeting a very different challenge head on.

Now coaching Sullivan Upper, Anderson's side will begin their Schools' Cup campaign with a trip to face local rivals Bangor Grammar.

After a series of impressive results, the Holywood school is being widely tipped for a strong campaign and their experienced coach believes that this is a squad possessing huge potential.

Ahead of Saturday's tie, he said: "This is a side with very high standards and because of that they have massively high expectations.

"But there will be nobody here getting ahead of themselves and we won't be looking past a game against a very good Bangor side.

"We have a lot of boys in Upper Sixth that know this is their last shot in this competition so they'll be making sure we take things one game at a time."

While Sullivan enter the competition at this Third Round stage, Bangor triumphed over Grosvenor Grammar in the last round and have a considerable pack that contains Ulster Schools' hooker Andrew Shaw.

The highly-anticipated north Down derby will be the first Schools' Cup tie played at the school's new campus, a fact that Anderson (pictured) believes will only add to the occasion.

"They'll be looking forward to this one, especially in their new school and I'm sure there will be a big crowd at the game.

"They did well in the last round and we know they've a big, physical pack with a few handy backs as well so it will be a good game."

The levels of talent within the Sullivan squad are reflected by a wealth of representation at Ulster age-grade level.

Captain Ross Todd is joined on the Ulster Schools Under-19 panel by Dave Cave, Josh Davidson, Michael Cartmill and David McMaster, while Mark Adair, Peter Cooper, Zach Bradshaw, James Houston and Angus McCartney have all been selected by the u-18 side.

Younger members of the team, Fergus Jemphrey and Callum Jeffrey, have also turned out for the Under-17s.

While the personal accolades are impressive, Anderson believes they will mean little to his side come Saturday.

He added: "We do have a good few boys who have got representative honours, Ross Todd the captain with the Under-19 side and some others, but that's all in the past now.

"They won't be thinking about that kind of thing at all now though. This, the match with Bangor on Saturday, is the main focus of their calendar for the rest of the season."

Anderson is assisted by fellow coach Laurence Kelly and team manager Stephen Finlay, the latter of whom believes that the success of the school's underage teams in recent years will hold the players in good stead.

The nucleus of the team won a Medallion Shield final against Limavady at Ravenhill in 2011, with Finlay stating: "There's players in the squad who have came through right the way up so they've all been together for a while now.

"They've won at Medallion level and they've taken that through to the First XV."

Finlay has witnessed a number of players, including his own son Scott who plays for Cooke, move into the club game in Ulster upon finishing school and he feels that it is a credit to the coaching at the school that there is such a desire to continue playing.

He said: "It's a great set-up at Sullivan and you can see that with the fact that maybe 11 of our 15 starters are involved in Ulster Schools sides.

"I think the key to seeing players want to keep going when they leave school, and I can speak for my son Scott's case, is that there is still an enjoyment in their rugby. They're not burning out by the time they leave.

"I would be confident that at least 70% of this side would keep up the game and go on to play for their university or a club side when they finish."

For now though, their focus will not be extending beyond 10.30am on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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