STRABANE Academy may be one of the minnows when it comes to Ulster schools’ rugby, but when it comes to developing talent they would appear to be on a par with anyone else.
Two of its former alumni, Ralph Mealiff and Jack Sayers were in Ulster Premership action for Ballynahinch and City of Derry Rugby Clubs’ respective first teams on Saturday.
Neither Mealiff nor Sayers looked out of place at senior level, with the former left a little frustrated at not getting the chance to go toe-to-toe with his one-time school coach, Strabane Academy technology and engineering teacher, Adam Bratton, who started for Hinch’s opposition, Rainey, on Saturday.
Mr Bratton played 50 minutes of the Magherafelt side’s SONI Ulster Premiership Division One 29-16 victory, his first appearance for the side since his move from City of Derry in the summer, before injury forced him out 10 minutes into the second half, just before Ralph was introduced.
Despite not getting the chance to clash on the pitch, the second row forward has been delighted with the progress made by his former protégé.
“It was a nice satisfying feeling knowing that Ralph has gone on to achieve good things and play in a good side,” beamed Mr Bratton.
“It’s a huge step up, so it’s nice to know that maybe we’re doing the right thing in the development of players because in two years he’s gone on to get a game for Ballynahinch firsts. He didn’t look out of place when he came on.
“And Jack Sayers played for City of Derry [in their Division Two 7-24 home defeat to City of Armagh] and I rang a few friends to see how he got on and from what I hear is he played really well too.”
Mr Bratton believes the progress being made by his former pupils shows the work he and especially PE teacher, Niall McDonnell, are doing at the school is working and that it can only encourage their current crop of players.
“It’s great motivation for the players at the school,” he acknowledged.
“Our ethos is to develop good players and if they leave school a better player than when they came then we’ve done our job.
“We just hope that they keep rugby on when they leave school because our worst case scenario is that they leave rugby behind when they leave us, so it’s great to see those boys and boys like Gareth Duncan and other players in action for Strabane Rugby Club, it’s fantastic.
“It’s great, not just the rugby, but the transferable skills they get from remaining involved like the social skills that they can gain from playing sport at the weekend, it’s invaluable to them,” he concluded.