STRABANE Academy’s head of rugby, Niall McDonnell believes the restructured Danske Bank Schools’ Cup, which gets underway tomorrow, can only benefit his players.
His charges host Grosvenor in their first Group D game at 10.30am this weekend before travelling to Dalriada and entertaining Sullivan Upper.
There has been a root and branch overhaul of the school game with 24 teams playing a series of group matches this side of Christmas in a bid to qualify for the last 16 of the prestigious competition.
There are six groups of four teams with all the winners and the best four runners-up qualifying for the knockout stages where they will be joined by half a dozen heavyweights including the likes of Methody, RBAI and Campbell College.
“It’s quite interesting and the way I look at it is these guys have an opportunity to play against a team from the tier above us at home, so what on earth do we have to lose?,” McDonnell beamed.
“We’ve played Belfast High School and other teams who are a tier above us and, yes, we haven’t been very successful yet, because the crux is generally we play them away.
“But on Saturday, losing or winning isn’t the be all and end all, it’s about the experience, the opportunity to play.
“Essentially we’re getting three games in the Schools’ Cup proper and then you go into the Trophy, so that’s a guaranteed four games.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, McDonnell sees it as the one his side is most likely to get a result from.
“We actually got a game further in the Trophy than Grosvenor last season – they lost in the quarter-final and we were edged out in the semi-finals,” he explained.
“Obviously our personnel has changed and their personnel has changed, so that could mean they have strengthened, but still, for our boys, what an opportunity to go and test yourself against better opposition and go and enjoy and experience, learn and measure yourself, challenge yourself, we’re excited about it.
“We’re probably not as excited about the next two games because they are unrealistic fixtures.
“To go to Dalriada and host Sullivan Upper are unrealistic, but Grosvenor, we have prepared well.”
The Strabane Academy squad to play Grosvenor GC at 10.30am on Saturday at Liskey Road is as follows: John Cummings, Finn Hampton, Mark Miller, Harry Prue, Nicky Sayers, Jason Henderson, Matthew Kelly, Reuben Orr, Dylan Hampton, Tom Harpur, Eoin McSorley, Adam McKittrick, Jack Kee, Brandon McGuigan, James McCrory, Adam Quinn, Oisin Robinson, Niall Preston, Joel Blackburn, James Preston, Jacob Wood, Raymond Curry, Kenzie Hall.
Fxtures for Tyrone teams
Saturday, October 19
Group C, Ballyclare v Omagh Academy; Group D, Strabane Academy v Grosvenor; Group F, RS Dungannon v Larne Grammar.
Saturday, November 16
Group C, Lurgan College v Omagh Academy; Group D, Dalriada School v Strabane Academy; Group F, Enniskillen Royal GS v RS Dungannon.
Saturday, December 7
Group C, Omagh Academy v Regent House; Group D, Strabane Academy v Sullivan Upper; Group F, Portadown College v RS Dungannon.
The top six and four runner-up qualify for Schools Cup and Subsidiary Shield.
Schools’ Cup schedule after the group stage: Last 16, Saturday, February 8; quarter-finals, Saturday, Februray 22; semi-finals, Tuesday, March 3 and Wednesday, March 4; final, Tuesday, March 17.