By Chris Caldwell
REGARDLESS of the outcome of Strabane Academy’s 1st XV’s Danske Bank Schools’ Cup first round clash at Carrickfergus, the squad will be able to leave the pitch with their heads held high because just to be involved in the competition is an achievement in itself.
“The Schools’ Cup is very special, especially for a school like ours, which doesn’t have the traditional rugby heritage associated with the competition,” explained team coach, Niall McDonnell.
“Rugby isn’t a predominant sport in the town and our team probably doesn’t fit the stereotype of the typical Schools’ Cup team.
To be part of the competition and to be able to compete in it is a very special thing for the players.
“I can’t put into words how special it is. We’re a small school and I’m very fortunate to have been able to take this team from first year right the way through, mould them, watch them develop not only as players but as young men, who are dedicated, commited, have character and have sportsmanship ingrained in them.
“Regardless of what happens, they can say they have played in the second oldest rugby competition in the world and no-one can take that away from them.
“ They have had to earn this opportunity because you can’t just enter this competition, we have had to earn this right and I’m very proud of the boys for achieving that.”
And while coach Niall McDonnell is immensley proud of his players achievement of earning the right to play in the tournament, which was first played for in 1876, he would still like them to progress into round two.
However, he realises it’s going to be no easy task against a school entrenched in the traditions of the Schools’ Cup, especially after two postponements – Saturday past and yesterday (Wednesday) -due to the wintry weather of late.
“It’s been frustrating with the weather that it’s been postponed twice, but there’s nothing we can do about that,” he acknowledged.
“As cliched as it sounds, this is our cup final because it’s a big thing to be in round one but we’d love to go through.That’s not going to be easy though because home advantage is very important in matches between us. We beat them 17-0 in Strabane in the first round last year and the year before they beat us in Carrick.
“They have a great infrastructure and their coach, Neil Kennedy, is one of the good guys, who I have a lot of time for. We share the same ethos on sportsmanship and how the game should be played,” McDonnell concluded.
Strabane’s Schools’ Cup first round clash at Carrick will be played tomorrow (Saturday). However, if the weather again puts paid to that, the encounter has a reserve date of Monday.