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Schools' Cup final preview: Boys in black are aiming to make it a special double

Final say: Campbell College captain Rex Tinsley and Methodist College skipper Kevin McNaboe ready for battle
Final say: Campbell College captain Rex Tinsley and Methodist College skipper Kevin McNaboe ready for battle
Campbell’s Patrick McAlpine
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite only the other two members of Belfast's 'Big Three' having lifted the Danske Bank Schools' Cup trophy on more occasions than Campbell College, there has been something missing from their recent CV.

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While both Methodist College and RBAI have defied the annual upheaval inherent in schoolboy rugby to reel of three consecutive titles each in the last six seasons, back-to-back triumphs have proved elusive for their east Belfast rivals.

Indeed, not since a pair of piggyback successes in the 1960s have the boys in black been celebrating on two straight St Patrick's Days.

That could all change today, though, with the Kingspan final against Methody coming 12 months on from a memorable triumph over Royal School Armagh.

Their captain, Rex Tinsley, along with nine others in their matchday 23, already have medals from a year ago and, while he acknowledges it's a different group this time around, he says past experience of the big game is a valuable commodity.

"It's a different team, different opportunities," he said. "For me, it was such a good experience and I want the younger guys to get to have that as well.

"We want to use the experience to drive us forward.

"Going into the semi-final especially, I didn't have the same nerves as last year because I'd done it before. I think if I can pass that on to the boys, I'll have done my job right and it's the same with the other boys who've been there before as well.

"The coaches have been preparing us well for the occasion, too."

That coaching ticket, which contains former Irish international Brian Robinson and Johnny Cupitt, as well as Worcester attack coach Neil Doak dropping in on a weekly basis, clearly has produced a well-drilled side.

Throughout last year's championship win, defence was their calling card and so it's proved again.

In their last four clash, a repeat of last year's final against Armagh, despite seeing precious little of the ball, they repelled their opponents' attacking waves and were clinical on their own rare visits to the '22'.

"It's something Brian Robinson drives and we pride ourselves on," adds Tinsley, who was born in Magherafelt but spent part of his childhood in Bahrain.

"Even when we kick it away, we back our defence all the time and that's down to him."

Those structures will be tested like never before against a Methody side who have been dealing with the tag of favourites since long before their campaign kicked off.

Despite not winning the Medallion Shield in their age group, the squad still led by long-term coach Nick Wells, have been talked about in the same breath as the school's 2008/2009 vintage, a side containing six players who forged considerable pro careers.

While they took their time to pull away from Wallace in their own semi, they have totalled 95 points in their three games and came through the tough draw of RBAI in the quarters.

Their captain Kevin McNaboe is giving little thought to the position of favourites.

"I think it's something we tend to ignore," said the number eight.

"The slate is even when it comes to cup rugby and anything can happen really.

"Against Wallace and against Dalriada and against Inst they all put up really good opposition to us. We would have been favourites for the Medallion as well so everyone will be looking to avenge that and come away from our time at Methody with a trophy."

Having not won the trophy since 2014, there is no denying the competition's most successful school feels it is overdue.

"I think that adds to the desire of the team and we want to put that right in a sense," added McNaboe.

"It's been five years so hopefully we can add to the total now.

"The first final I think I went to was 2013 (in the second of their most recent hat-trick, Methody beat Inst 20-5) and it was a great win.

"It was my sister's year so I knew a few of the boys from them being friends with her.

"It was class to see them lift the trophy."

And what of doing it himself this afternoon?

"It would be brilliant and it's something I've been thinking about for a long time," he said "Hopefully I can make that a reality.

"I think now that we're in the final you can start to think about it.

"Throughout the cup we've just been focused on whatever is in front of us and that's Campbell."

Campbell College: C Rankin; D Williamson, R Tinsley (capt), H Owens, K Harkness-Robertson; O Rolston, D Gaskin; J Gildea, H Jackson, P McAlpine; K Gill, J Stinson; J Johnston, B Rainey, T Olaniyan

Replacements: J Boal L Collins, M Poor, C McCauley, J Brennan, H Bell, F Parks, H Minford

Methodist College: E McIlroy; T O'Doherty, R Armstrong, J Fletcher, C Larmour; T Armstrong, C Davidson; B Crangle, D Humphreys, T Linton; M Lyttle, B Gourley; D Boden, A Reid, K McNaboe (capt)

Replacements: J Watson, P Johnston, M Hunter, T Millar, A Simms, L Simms, L Graham, L Millar

Referee: Dan Carson.

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