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Skipper Lowry is hungry to sign off on a high for third and last Paddy's Day game

By Michael Sadlier

They have consistently dodged the issue, but there is no hiding from it now as holders Royal Belfast Academical Institution are just one game away from their third consecutive Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup triumph.

And they are favourites to achieve a rare treble today — the school last did so in the 1940s when they actually lifted the trophy six times in a row between 1943 and 1948 — with old rivals Methody now blocking their path.

It all comes with added edge too as these two Belfast schools are the famous competition’s most successful participants with Methody having won 35 outright titles to Inst’s 31.

This will also be the 15th time the sides have met in a final. Inst have the nudge having triumphed in nine previous meetings while Methody have five successes over their near neighbours, with the last time they went head-to-head being in 2013 when the Malone Road school triumphed.

Today, though, five of the Inst side can potentially take ownership of their third winners’ medals which further fuels the notion that Inst’s experience should hold sway, particularly as no Methody player has tasted a final.

Skipper and out-half Michael Lowry, centre and place-kicker James Hume, full-back Joe Finnegan, hooker Neil Saulters and prop Callum Reid were all part of coach Dan Soper’s squad when they began this sequence of wins against Wallace High School in 2015 before defeating Campbell 12 months ago.

This year Inst have impressively swatted aside Ballyclare High School, before having to show their quality in defeating Campbell ahead of seeing off Ballymena Academy in the semi-final.

Naturally, skipper Lowry plays down the notion that Inst have the edge even though 11 of their starting side are familiar with being in a final.

“Inst against Methody? You can’t put the favourites tag on anyone never mind it being the final,” insisted Lowry, who will sit A Levels in Biology, Geography and PE this summer.

“I don’t think you can do that with a derby like this.”

Inst look even stronger this year with the form of half-backs Lowry and Rhys O’Donnell along with the skills of Hume and Finnegan being consistently on another level.

And they have many other threats too with wingers Niall Armstrong and, up front, powerful flankers Charlie Cloke, Patrick Finnegan — the twin brother of Joe — and No.8 Yassar Omar.

“For me it’s the last game for your school,” said Lowry.

“It would mean everything to win, but not just for me, it’s for the team and trying to continue on that legacy in the shirt of past pupils who have played in it before.” 

A piece of history beckons.

RBAI's route to the final

Fourth round: RBAI 54 Ballyclare High School 0.

Quarter-final: Campbell College 3 RBAI 10.

Semi-final: RBAI 41 Ballymena Academy 8.

RBAI: J Finnegan, Z Davidson, J Hume, D Lyttle, N Armstrong, M Lowry, R O’Donnell; C Reid, N Saulters, M Nelson, D Wallace, D McCann, P Finnegan, C Cloke, Y Omar.

Replacements: C McCormick, P McLernon, E Sloan, B Gribben, E Field, A Adair, R McIlveen, S Fryers.

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