Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Final preview 17th March 2014 Sullivan Upper School v Methodist College. By Barney McGonigle

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Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Final preview 17th March 2014.
Thirty one teams started out on the adventure of the 2013/14 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup when the draw for the Round 1 games was made in November. Twenty nine Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup games have been played with game number thirty scheduled to take place on Monday 17th March at Ravenhill. That game will feature the perennial Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup favourites, Methodist College, Belfast against the new kids on the block, Sullivan Upper.
The Holywood boys will be featuring in their first ever Ulster Schools’ Cup final and this talented group of young players will be hoping to finish off a plan that has been the offing for some seven years. When Ross Todd, Michael Cartmill, David McMaster, Josh Davidson and their team mates of seven years standing walked into Sullivan Upper School in September 2007, it was the educated sporting eyes of Master-in-Charge of Rugby, Mike Rodgers, which spotted the potential rugby talent of this group of fresh faced youngsters. Mike, assisted by Mark Spiers, worked with these players as a Year 8 team and, by the end of their first season, it was obvious this was a very special group of players. In came colleagues such as Billy Halliday and David Armstrong to work with and coach the players through their U13 and U14 years. Mark Spiers was never far away over those seasons in which the players really started to develop. In stepped Willie Anderson to take the team through their Medallion season. Structures had been put in place, by the coaches at Sullivan Upper, to give the squad the best possible opportunity of winning the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Medallion Shield in the 2010/11 season. Astutely guided along the way by Willie Anderson, win it they did. En route to the final in that season they had to defeat some of the best teams in Ulster, including the Methodist College Medallion team. Ross Todd led his Medallion team with distinction that year. Success in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Medallion Shield that season left the squad with a great desire to achieve a lot more. They are now just one step away from achieving that goal. Mike Rodgers then, once again, became the guiding influence on these young players as they adapted from Junior, through to Senior Schools’ Rugby. Mike was assisted during these years by Adam Craig, as well as on occasions his son, Peter, and the players adapted well. Mike, recognising leadership qualities, had the foresight to appoint Ross Todd as captain of the Sullivan Upper team in his Lower Sixth year. Ross displayed meticulous attention to detail both on and off the pitch and his players have all benefitted from his captaincy. The responsibility for taking this group of players through their final year as 1stxv players and potential Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup winners, was then handed to Willie Anderson, the man who coached them to previous Medallion Shield glory. Willie can call upon the well rounded skills of Stephen Finlay as manager of the Sullivan Upper team to assist with the preparation of the team. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”
En route through the school, a number of these players have been awarded the Loughead Cup. This cup is presented to players from Sullivan Upper who display great potential on the rugby pitch. It has been presented in memory of a man who devoted a life time of service to rugby football at schoolboy level in Sullivan Upper, Ulster and Ireland. That man is Roy Loughead, former Ulster Branch and Irish Rugby Football Union President. Sadly, Roy is no longer with us but how proud he would be to see his beloved Sullivan Upper School take the pitch at Ravenhill on St Patrick’s Day.
Roy was assisted in Sullivan Upper for many years by Joe McKinney, 1stxv coach, who was an interested spectator at the semi-final against Coleraine Inst. The delight on Joe’s face at the final whistle was clear to be seen. Likewise, the reaction of former Sullivan Upper Principals, John Stevenson and John Young, both great supporters of sport at the school. They will be very proud men on Monday!
The Sullivan Upper team has strength in every department. Concerns regarding their scrummaging ability seem to have been dispelled following the total dominance of the Sullivan Upper scrum against Coleraine AI in the semi-final. The front row of Conor McEvoy, Mark Crockford and Chris Griffiths never took a backward step. The victory in that game was achieved because of the dominance of the Sullivan Upper pack. Not only did they dominate the scrums, they dominated the lineouts with Max Clarke and Josh Davidson in imperious form. They were quicker and smarter at the breakdown with Ross Todd, Dave Cave and Andrew Bailie getting through a lot of work. The Sullivan Upper driven maul tactic was very effective, leading directly to a number of tries.
The Sullivan half backs, Charlie McEwen and Mark Adair, displayed good game management skills and kept the Sullivan pack on the front foot for large parts of the game. Mark Adair, alongside his centres, Michael Cartmill and David McMaster, formed a very effective midfield trio. They looked dangerous with the ball in hand and displayed great determination to get over the gain line. They were determined in defence but might be slightly concerned as to how the Coleraine AI centre, Mark Gordon, managed to run in for a try from distance. Out wide, the Sullivan Upper team has players who are safe in defence and love to get the chance to run at the opposition. Young Jonny Betts has displayed great form at full back since David McMaster moved in to the centre position.
In recent years Sullivan Upper teams have won the Subsidiary Shield, the 2ndxv Cup, the Schools’ Bowl, the Medallion Sevens, the Senior Sevens and the Medallion Shield. Can they add to this list of honour by winning the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup??
The team that will be determined to ruin the Sullivan Upper party on St Patrick’s Day is Methodist College, Belfast. The Methodist College has appeared in more finals and won more Ulster Schools’ Cups than any other school in the Province. They have a proud and distinguished history of success in the competition and the “Class of 2014” are determined they well be continuing with that success. This Methodist College team is en route to yet another Triple success having won the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup in each of the last two seasons. Like their opposite numbers, they have a very experienced captain in Michael Lagan. Michael, like Ross Todd, is surrounded by players who bring a range of age grade representative experience to the team. Steven Weir and Ross McAllistair work well alongside Michael to form a very effective front row. Alex Livingstone and Alex Thompson form an athletic 2nd Row partnership and one that will be keen to dominate at lineout time. The battle between the Methody backrow trio of Saul Herdman, Matthew McKinney and Conall Boomer and their opposite numbers could be worth the admission money alone!
Methody coaches, Nicky Wells and Stephen Lindsay, know they have a talented group of backs to work with. They will expect the Methody pack to provide as much quality possession as possible so that Frazer Wallace and Josh Bingham can manage the game effectively. Conor McKee and Alistair McIvor will enjoy the competition against the Sullivan centres while Wolfe Diamond, Rory Cairns and, in particular, Conor Kelly will want to get the ball in their hands and in space as often as possible.
Many observers seem to suggest that the Methody team is somewhat fortunate to have got as far in this Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ competition as they have, Undoubtedly, RBAI and Wallace High School did ask questions of the Methody team in previous rounds. However, the fact remains it was this Methody team that came through those two games successfully. They have a great belief in their ability, they never give up and they will have addressed the issues that arose in those games. Admirable qualities in an admirable team! They have a great desire to achieve the “Three in a Row”. Can the Sullivan Upper team stop them??
This game is scheduled to kick off at 3-00pm at Ravenhill on St Patrick’s Day.

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