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Schools' Cup Rugby final: Inst ace McNamara aims to fulfil a long-held dream at Kingspan clash with Wallace High

By Jonathan Bradley

While for any normal school seven seasons without a Schools' Cup victory would hardly constitute a barren spell, RBAI will view today's final with Wallace as an opportunity to secure some overdue success.

Second only to Methody in terms of titles, they have not had their hands on the famous old trophy since a win over today's foes in 2007.

Indeed, all of the pupils in attendance at the Kingspan Stadium this afternoon know nothing of Schools' Cup glory, Inst having lost three finals in the intervening period.

>>Schools Cup live from Kingspan Stadium<<

For captain Lewis McNamara, the chance to end the perceived drought is an opportunity he has dreamed of since first walking through the school's gates.

He said: "It's my life, my dream. It has been since I started. To bring the cup home with this group of boys... we just want to do everyone proud.

"It's an added incentive to bring the cup back. We haven't won it while I've been at the school. It's something that is really close to my heart, to bring it back where we think it belongs."

McNamara remembers all too well the recent setbacks and, having also heard tales of previous victories, he is determined to be writing a positive chapter in the school's storied history today.

"We've had brilliant teams, we just haven't got over the line," said the flanker who did get his hands on some silverware last year when winning the Ulster Schools' Cricket Cup.

"Losing to Methody when I was in first year, losing to Campbell in third year, Methody two years ago, and then playing in the quarter-final loss to Methody last year, they're all things that stick in your mind.

"Our strength and conditioning coach Mark McDowell is always telling us all about the 2007 final. There's other boys from that team who we've kept close to, Jamie Lusk and Josh Pentland, who have told us how brilliant it was and we just want to live through it for ourselves."

While keen to downplay his own contribution, McNamara forms part of a formidable back-row that also contains Ethan Harbinson and Mark Mairs while Michael Lowry will be relied upon to pull the strings from out-half.

If all are on form then Inst will certainly be confident but they are meeting a formidable opponent.

With a host of Ulster representative team members playing their last game for the school, Wallace were tipped by many as favourites when the season began and strengthened their case by going through the campaign unbeaten.

Inst are, though, the only side in the province to have avoided defeat against the Lisburn school this year.

Recalling the autumn draw between the pair, McNamara feels his side's performance that day augurs well.

"We came back from 17-7 down with seven minutes to play and it took character," he said. "We had a couple of players missing as well which maybe didn't matter but could have made the difference.

"We were very happy with the result, and hopefully we can go one better in the final. Since then there's been a massive improvement. We've become like a family."

That camaraderie is evident in defence and coaches Daniel Soper and Richard Hedley have led their team to the final without having conceded a try.

"It's only six points in three games and that takes character and determination," said McNamara. "Every week Mr Hedley is putting us through it. Repetition, repetition, repetition."

If it is indeed McNamara and Co who are celebrating come 4.30pm, then all those hours will surely seem like a small price to pay.

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