Schools’ Cup as important as big final: coach
With two teams requiring his attention, Mike Orchin-McKeever is going to be a very busy man this weekend.
Come tomorrow, not only will he be trying to lead Ballyclare High into the quarter-finals of the Danske Bank Schools’ Cup in the morning but, only a few hours later, he’ll be hoping to take Ballyclare Rugby Club to All-Ireland Junior Cup glory in the final at Kingspan Stadium.
Between trying to sort out tactics, video analysis and team selection for two sides, chances are he won’t have a free moment to himself until Sunday. And, given where they are in their respective competitions, you would forgive him if he put a little bit more emphasis on the team that are 80 minutes from a trophy than the one facing a last-16 tie.
But that’s not Orchin-McKeever. He knows the sacrifices both teams have made, and he won’t neglect his duties with the High School just because he has a final to prepare for as well.
“I remember being in a meeting with (Banbridge Academy coach) Brian Leslie and he said that these rounds may not mean as much to some people, but it means a lot to these kids, and I completely agree,” he said.
“We have kids in tears when they lose these games, some don’t sleep the night before — it means so much to them.
“I’ve got a very strong, competitive squad and they set very high standards for themselves in training and in matches. It’s an exciting opportunity to have a Schools’ Cup match at home and one we’re very much looking forward to.”
So, with his High School hat on, chat about an All-Ireland final is parked for a bit. Instead, his focus is on the game that comes first: co-defending Schools’ Cup champions Royal School Armagh on home soil (10.30am).
Ballyclare haven’t been to a final themselves since 2012, but each year they look to be closing the gap between themselves and some of the traditional powerhouses of the Schools’ Cup, however they are yet to get back to the St Patrick’s Day decider.
This year, however, the coaching staff have mixed things up a little. In a bid to get their players used to the pressure of big games, Orchin-McKeever opted to play some games under the floodlights on a Friday night rather than the traditional Saturday morning — and he hopes those Friday night lights will pay dividends now they’ve reached the knockout stages.
“It was to try and take them out of their normal environment and put them under a bit of pressure,” he explained.
“Ballyclare RFC hosted a fixture, Bangor hosted a fixture and Rainey hosted a game against Ulster Under-18 Clubs.
“There was an excitement playing under lights, it was something different and it brings a bit of excitement. We hope that’s prepared them for how it will be when they maybe feel some of the nerves going into a Cup game and they’ve had the experience of dealing with them.
“We had a narrow loss against Wesley College from Dublin in our last game, but that’s the exact kind of hit-out you want going into Cup matches. We’re playing against the holders, even though the final didn’t take place last time out, and we’re expecting a really tough match.”
Meanwhile, Foyle College head coach David Barnett hopes his players can retain the self-belief that saw them produce a remarkable comeback against Belfast High in round three.
Trailing 14-0 after 12 minutes, Foyle fought back superbly thanks to Lewis Hodgson’s late, late try — converted by Adam Killeen, who also kicked three penalties — to set up a huge home tie against Sullivan Upper in the fourth round (11am).
“Our guys have a great amount of faith in their ability, and I think that is what saw us over the line in the last round and I have no doubt they will have that against Sullivan too,” said Barnett.
“Our boys deserve to be where they are, they’ve worked really hard and now hopefully they can back it up against Sullivan.
“Underdogs will suit us — we’re not usually favourites, so we’re used to playing when nobody really fancies us and hopefully that works in our favour.”