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Grosvenor are up to speed ahead of Schools' Cup clash


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Lining up: the Grosvenor squad

Lining up: the Grosvenor squad

Stephen Hamilton

Lining up: the Grosvenor squad

There is a buzzword this season which underpins both the approach to the game and mindset of Grosvenor Grammar School.

Though by no means a mighty force in schools' rugby, Grosvenor are still intent on growing the game and bringing new levels of achievement to the east Belfast establishment, which is celebrating its 75th year in existence.

'Got Speed' is the slogan which this year's senior squad have worked towards, meaning that their skill and athleticism are at the heart of the school's rugby philosophy as a means of playing the game.

So far, the notion seems to have achieved some traction as Grosvenor have come through the first airing of the Danske Bank Schools' Cup group stages to host Enniskillen Royal Grammar School tomorrow (kick-off 11am) in the famous trophy's knockout stages.

Making the last-16 was a realistic goal for Grosvenor - whose sole Schools' Cup success was back in 1983 - and this was achieved as a best runner-up after beating Dalriada and Strabane Academy but succumbing to pool favourites Sullivan Upper.

Now, Grosvenor face their fourth competitive game of the season and are hoping that home advantage will help when they face a strong Enniskillen outfit, who had a rather easier time qualifying.

Grosvenor head of rugby Mark McDowell said: "This knockout game is certainly building excitement and a buzz in the school.

"We're looking forward to playing against them and the challenge they will bring to us.

"We've absolutely no doubt in our minds that it will be a difficult game, but we back ourselves to be able to step up at home and to be able to compete," added McDowell, who achieved Schools' Cup success both as a player and member of the coaching staff at Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

The east Belfast school's form since the Christmas break has seen Grosvenor win two games from four which, McDowell feels, is beneficial as they prepare to do battle with a quarter-final place on offer.

"We set a target of winning two out of our four games prior to the knockout stages of the Cup and we've achieved that," said McDowell, who is in his second year running the first team, of the victories over Belfast High School and Rainey Endowed. "So, our form has been not too bad."

With around only three or four Year 14s bringing much-needed leadership and experience to the side, the mix of this season's squad is quite young which is certainly encouraging in terms of future development.

Skipper Adam Moore is at the core of the final year playing group and this is the third season on the firsts for the player who primarily togs out at full-back.

Flanker Harry Graham, who is in Year 13, is another key leader and is vice-captain of the team, while out-half Jack Breen, also in Year 13, has notably stepped up this season.

"We're obviously excited first and foremost about this year," said McDowell, who also coaches at AIL level with Banbridge.

"But we're looking forward to being able to see what we can also do over the next couple of years too."

The Grosvenor head coach is assisted by former Ulster Academy player Rory Butler, who along with Owen Henry looks after the backs. David McLaughlin helps McDowell with the forwards and also oversees the seconds, who have made the semi-finals of their Trophy competition.

Peter Thompson looks after the Medallions, who put out one team and, last year, were victorious in the Plate competition.

This season, the Medallions are also in the chase for silverware and they face Down High School in the semi-final of the Medallion Bowl.

Grosvenor also put out one side at U14s, coached by Alan Cowan, and it's the same with the U13s, who are overseen by Gary Hunter.

Johnny Watts and former Ireland cricket international Andrew White look after the two teams the school have at U12s level with Grosvenor having a total of around 130 pupils playing the game across the age groups.

Enjoyment and enrichment are the main aims, with a strong link also existing with Grosvenor Rugby Club.

"Enjoyment is at the forefront," admitted McDowell.

"But we also want to drive that performance side of it as well in desiring to reach the latter stages of competitions.

"That's very much been our thinking over the last few years. We'd also like to get back to touring regularly as that's a really good impetus for guys to continue playing."

Evolving a playing style and a programme to cultivate a recalibrated rugby culture are targets Grosvenor feel are attainable.

Now they intend to continue the hard work and push on towards their goals.

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