SIXTEEN of Ireland’s leading schools, including Villiers of Limerick, will lock horns this week as the 2016 edition of the Subway All-Ireland Schoolboys Championships come to Dublin for the 35th edition of the competition which gets underway on Wednesday, October 26.
The tournament will be played out across 33 matches, five venues, four groups and three days of high-octane action that serves as one of the highlights of the Irish hockey calendar.
Banbridge Academy go into the competition as the reigning champions and are one of the favourites once again as they pursue a sixth title. Their coach Mark Cordner, last term, believed they were in transition but stunned the field to win out in the end.
This time around, they will have no element of surprise especially with star men like Kyle Marshall and Jake Rowe in their ranks. Their goalkeeper Luke Roleston, meanwhile, was the star of the show on numerous occasions last season and is another big element of their team.
They are in Pool C and will face Methodist College Belfast, Limerick’s Villiers and Rathgar’s High School. The latter side could cause some problems with four Leinster Under-18 players in their ranks – Alex Flynn, Alex O’Regan, Ali Empey and Peter Lynch. They do face a race against time, though, on Lynch who broke a bone in his shoulder, recently.
Wesley, finalists a year ago, are the big name in Pool D but will not have it their own way in what looks to be the toughest group of all. The Ballinteer school will be looking to end a seven-year wait for a fourth title after a frustrating couple of years that have seen them lose in the final three times since 2012.
They have five Leinster Under-18 players in their squad while they also have Irish Under-18s like Mark Samuel, Gavin Gibney and David Mawhinney that they can draw on.
Sullivan Upper and Bandon GS will provide big hurdles to get over with Friends, perhaps, the outsiders. For Sullivan, Tom Robson, Fergus Gibson and Harry Morris provide skill and quality. Bandon finished second in the Munster qualifiers with wins over Newtown and Midleton and a draw with Villiers.
In Pool A, Lisburn’s Wallace High School and Cork’s Ashton School are the targets for outsiders Campbell College and Newpark Comprehensive.
Wallace have one of the hottest strikers in the competition in Andrew O’Hare. He scored a massive seven times in a recent win over Grosvenor and a hat trick against Friends.
Ashton, meanwhile, won all four of their games in the Munster qualifiers but their charge has been dented somewhat by Irish Under-18 midfielder David Lynch’s decision to complete his schooling at Bruce College. Newpark’s key man is the ever-improving Luke Adams but this tournament may a year early for a young side.
St Andrew’s – winners three times in the last four years – will be strong contenders once again with Guy Sarratt pulling the strings while Ben Walker is a dynamo in midfield.
Their group sees them as the side to beat against Co Donegal’s Royal & Prior, Tyrone’s Cookstown HS and Dublin qualifiers Mount Temple. Temple feature Polish senior international Mateusz Nowakowski as their star man.
It makes for a fascinating series of the competitions with the top place finisher from each of the four-team groups going through to the semi-finals, held on Friday, October 28 at Three Rock Rovers ahead of the final, on the same day, at 2.30pm.
Subway All-Ireland Schoolboys Championships (October 26-28, 2016)
Pool A: Wallace HS, Newpark Comprehensive, Campbell College, Ashton School
Pool B: Royal & Prior, St Andrew’s, Cookstown HS, Mount Temple
Pool C: Banbridge Academy, High School, Methodist College Belfast, Villiers
Pool D: Sullivan Upper, Wesley College, Friends, Bandon GS