First round home game in Schools' Cup one to savour for Strabane Academy

Thursday, 24 November 2016

First round home game in Schools' Cup one to savour for Strabane Academy thumbnailPictured at the launch of the 2016-17 Danske Bank Schools’ Cup are Ian Russell, Joel White, Oran O’Neill, and John McKibbin, IRFU president.

STRABANE Academy will play Carrickfergus Grammar at home in the first round of the 2016-17 Danske Bank Schools' Cup on Saturday, December 3, and for school coach Niall McDonnell, it will be an occasion for the entire school to saviour.

The North West school will be hoping to exact revenge on Carrickfergus, who defeated them 12-5 in last year's competition, eventually after bad weather had put paid to the school's pervious two scheduled meetings that winter.

While Schools' Cup powerhouses such as Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Methodist College Belfast can boast huge resources and rich traditions in the world's second-oldest rugby competition, Strabane Academy are left to play a "numbers game" according to McDonnell, with only about 50 boys playing rugby across the entire school.

We have a great spine, capable of getting on teams that will be there later in the competition. We have a very small pick though, even though a third of the boys in the school play rugby. Other schools have guys from big rugby backgrounds, while some of our boys never played the sport until they came to the school."

McDonnell though has nothing but admiration for his players, whose application and commitment is fist class. "They say sport is about character-building. We couldn't have anymore character. The guys are faultless, they keep turning up. We've had great attendance at the start of the term then the weather took a bit of a turn, but there was absolutely no drop-off.

"To see those boys keep putting their bodies on the line, it gives you a buzz. For them it's not about winning or losing. They only want to go out and give everything from first minute to the last, regardless of the result. they keep going no matter what the score-line."

Academy can look to the likes of senior players Ryan McKittrick at hooker, skipper Oran O'Neill at flanker an second row Alex Hume. Jordan Nelis, only a fifth year pupil, is a key player at number eight, while Adam McElwee will always look to scavenge and carry from the back row position. Jordan's brother Ross pulls the strings at fly-half.

Alongside McDonnell on the coaching front is fellow PE teacher Steve Sargent, with James Doherty, coach at City of Derry, and Adam Bratton, City of Derry captain. "Those men are worth their weight in gold," said McDonnell. "The training we are able to do, the preparation, is more advanced. it's about improving the percentages. We video the games, watch them back, identify things and the boys understand their performances."

McDonnell also paid tribute to the school's headmaster, David Hampton, a former PE head and rugby player himself, and chair of the Board of Governors, William Nelis. "They want the school to be a success, and they always give great support."

Rugby has been steadily growing in Strabane Academy in recent times. Six years ago, the school only had no senior team, only a medallion team. Within three years they were back in the School's Cup, and now have a junior team playing in the school. McDonnell though maintains the hard work only begins now.

"Our aim is to get to the next stage. For many of the boys, it could be their only ever home Schools' game. I want them to remember it fondly, to enjoy it and do themselves justice."


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