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Methody big guns will fire

By Jonathan Bradley

Whether it's the inclusion of former pupils Craig Gilroy and Paddy Jackson in the most recent Ireland squad, the Schools' Cup currently residing in their trophy cabinet, or the photographs of a record-breaking 33 previous championship-winning teams that adorn the corridors, it's hard to avoid Methody's recent rugby pedigree.

With such a history, the Malone Road school is one where success is not something to be strived for but that is expected, a situation that adds increased pressure to what was already set to be a titanic clash with Campbell College in the fourth round of the Schools' Cup.

However, having overseen four Schools' Cup-winning sides in the last seven years, head coach Nicky Wells is no stranger to such expectations and doesn't feel that the burdens of past triumphs weigh unduly on the minds of his players.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's game, he said: "The Schools' Cup is always a tough one because, rightly or wrongly, all it takes is to lose one game and no matter what else happens the season will be deemed a failure.

"That's not to say that makes it any more difficult, though, as it's something the players will have understood right the way through school.

"At places like Methody, Inst and Campbell it's just one of those things that comes with the territory."

With the draw for the fourth round pitting two of the competition's perennial favourites against one another at the first possible opportunity, the contest at Fox's Field is without any doubt the tie of the day.

However, Wells does not believe that it is a disadvantage to be playing a fixture of such magnitude at this stage of the competition.

"There's obviously not going to be a bigger game happening anywhere during the week but at the same time, if you want to win the Schools' Cup you never think you're going to be able to do it without beating Campbell somewhere along the line, so whether it's the fourth round or in the final really isn't important.

"Our focus is always on that first game in this competition.

"It's what we gear everything towards, it's what we've trained towards, toured towards and played towards so we are always going to be looking to hit the ground running no matter which team we are up against."

The teams met at the semi-final stage of the competition last year with Methody triumphing 18-8 at Ravenhill, before going on to win the trophy by beating Ballyclare High in the showpiece final.

As well as that result, Methody have already tasted success at the home of their cross-town rivals this season, winning a friendly fixture by the narrow margin of 22-18 at Fox's Field in December.

That day the game proved to be a close-fought encounter featuring numerous lead changes with Methody eventually proving victorious thanks to a hat-trick of tries from James Gallagher.

However, in the opinion of Wells, those previous successes will count for little come 11am tomorrow morning in east Belfast.

"Last year is completely gone now and it's a brand new day," he explained.

"In truth, it doesn't even matter that we beat them earlier in the season either

"Games between these two sides are always going to be so close that they are won by a marginal call either way or from a moment of brilliance from one of the boys."

As is customary in games between the two, the pitch will be littered with young players who have earned representative honours, with the likes of Campbell's Rob Haldane and Methody's Ross Kane having appeared for Ulster at under-19 level this year, while both sides have provided a significant contingent of players to the Ulster Schools squad.

Despite the presence of such talented individuals on both sides, Methody are favourites to progress tomorrow, and Wells is confident his side will be in the draw for the quarter-finals.

"We know that Campbell are a very competent side who are extremely dangerous if you let them in behind you and it should be a real classic Belfast derby, although we've only had one loss all year and on that basis I would take my set of my boys against anyone either north or south of the border.

"We've got a great strength in depth here and, while you would rather be playing at home, we've proven equally strong at going away and getting results."

As well as his own quartet of triumphs, Wells' father, David, led Methody to an astonishing 14 finals with the family's coaching history in the Schools' Cup dating back over 30 years.

All those involved at Pirrie Park will be hoping that love affair with the competition isn't ended prematurely by their longstanding rivals tomorrow.

Belfast Telegraph


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