Ballyclare High will come up against a familiar face on Saturday morning when they meet Royal Belfast Academical Institution in a fourth round Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup tie (Osborne Park 11am).
Director of rugby at the Belfast school - who are bidding to win the trophy for a third successive year - is Dan Soper, who was the former coach at Ballyclare.
Adding further interest to the tie is the fact that Ballyclare’s current coach is Michael Orchin-McKeever, a former pupil at Inst.
McKeever, who receives great assistance from former pupil and Ulster player, Richard Lutton, Gary Clotworthy and Gareth Lenaghan will be determined, in spite of the odds, that the Ballyclare name will be in the draw for a place in the last eight.
Ballyclare lost heavily to the Belfast boys at the start of the season, but there were players missing from the teams on representative age-grade duties and can have no bearing on a potential outcome this weekend.
Team Captain, Jake McVicker, has captained his team effectively . The scrum half, finds himself surrounded by other talented players. Owen Kirk, Jack Black and James Nelson top the try scoring charts. Kirk added three to his current tally against Lurgan College in the previous round. Adam Clarke has run in a number of tries this season and scored one more against Lurgan. However, it is the Year 12’s effective use of his trusty boot that has impressed many observers this season and he is just in Year 12.
Jack Lewis, at fullback, was another try scorer in the previous round and represented the Ulster Schools’ U18 Schools’ team earlier in the season.
Clarke, who is also a talented cricketer, has been involved with the Ulster U17 squad while Josh Young, an Ulster Schools’ Shot and Discus Champion, and James Nelson, will be watched by RDS representatives.
Jack Black and Adam Playfair are entering their third Schools’ Cup campaign. Aaron Coulter, another Ballyclare player the Belfast Inst defence will need to monitor carefully, has gained representative honours in Bowling, having played at U25 Level for Ireland.
But the pressure will all be on Inst this weekend as they look to defend the title.
Team captain, Michael Lowry, will be keen to follow the footsteps of his predecessors Conor Field and Lewis McNamara, who lifted the famous trophy in the past two season. Outhalf Rhys O’Donnell, is an outstanding prospect who was another member of the Ulster U19 squad. Rhys gained International recognition last season when he played on the Ireland U18 3 Nations team against a France U18 and the England Home Counties U18 teams. Alongside James Hume, the Vice-Captain, and Joe Finnegan in the Belfast Inst backline, the performances of these players will be closely monitored by the Ireland U19 Management team during the Schools’ Cup campaign. Callum Reid played for the Ulster U19 team while the talented Niall Armstrong and Ethan Field had their abilities recognized when they played for the Ulster Schools’ team earlier in the season.
Players like Pierce McLernon, who has had an outstanding season, Dermot Wallace, Yasser Omar, Neil Saulters, Paddy Finnegan and Charlie Cloke are all in Year 14 and have been the backbone of the development of a very good set of forwards.