When assessing the most successful rugby schools in the world, Blackrock College would have to feature prominently in the discussion.
The Dublin school – technically sited in Dun Laoghaire – has produced scores of distinguished Ireland internationals for well over 100 years from Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus Slattery, Brendan Mullin downwards and won the fiercely contested Leinster Schools Senior Cup on an extraordinary 69 occasions. Blackrock have also won the Junior Schools Cup – for players U16 – on 51 occasions and ‘Rock’ have done the double – senior and junior cup – 27 times.
Strangely O’Driscoll – the ubiquitous utility back at school – never enjoyed success in the Senior Cup, being an unused replacement in 1996 and then tasting a semi-final defeat against Terenure the following season when he lined up at fly-half and, by his own admission, missed at least three dropped goal attempts.
Blackrock’s appearance at a Donnybrook final on March 17 are almost taken for granted although there has been a slight dip in the last two years. Last season, for example, resulted in a shock last minute semi-final defeat against Gonzaga which nobody saw coming. Blackrock are always the scalp every school in Ireland want.
Leinster Schools Senior Cup titles: 69
Most consecutive titles: 6 (1900-1905)
Biggest winning margin in final: 63 (1900 final v Corrig School)
Longest period without a senior title: 6 (1967-73)
Captains who have led Blackrock to back-to- back senior titles: Larry McMahon (1929, 30)’ Garret Gill (1962, 63); Jonny Mion (1989, 90); Barry Gibney (1995,96)
Most successful school other than Blackrock: Belvedere College 12, Terenure College 10
The popular book
Miseducation of Ross O’Caroll-Kelly by Paul Howard heavily features the rugby and Leinster Cup exploits of the eponymous character at the fictional Castlerock College which is very much based on Blackrock. And the school have also given us BT Sport Rugby host Craig Doyle, whose love affair with the game started there.
In recent years there has virtually been a hotline between Blackrock and the Leinster Academy and indeed Leinster are coached by notable Blackrock old boy – Leo Cullen – who featured in arguably the greatest ever Blackrock side, more of which anon.
Nominating the strongest ever Blackrock side is not easy given the choice, but you won’t find many violently disagreeing with that 1996 side which the young O’Driscoll couldn’t get into.
That side was captained by flanker Barry Gibney who, 12 months earlier, had also led a young side to a narrow 8-3 win in the final over Clongowes Wood. That mighty year group moved through en masse and the following year were unstoppable, not least in the final where they hammered one of the best ever Newbridge College teams, featuring Geordan Murphy, 37-3.
It was a commanding performance from a side fielding five future Ireland internationals, a couple of players who might have made it all the way but for injury and the all-time legend of Irish rugby on the bench.
Gibney, who captained Irish schools to a rare win over Australia schools, was one of those who might have made it but his career was ended by a knee injury soon after he made his full Leinster debut. In total, ten of the 22 played professional rugby and ten pulled on an Ireland jersey at some level.
O’Driscoll did occasionally play for the First XV that season but was particularly small for his age and just missed out in a couple of positions. At scrum-half Ciaran Scally was another blazing star, one of the most impressive Ireland schools players ever and had already won five senior caps when he suffered a career-ending knee injury at the age of 22.
And then at centre Dave Quinlan was a strapping unit who made a big impact at schools’ level and was another to win senior caps.
“I didn’t make the squad as a junior – I just wasn’t big enough,” says O’Driscoll. “And then in 1996 for the Seniors I was just a squad player for the whole year although I started on the wing against CBC Monkstown in the first round because Michael Price was injured. It went well enough. I was scrum-half for the quarters then dropped for the semi-final against Terenure.
“It was a hell of a team, Barry was the absolute star man, closely followed by Skids (Ciaran Scally). Leo Cullen had a very good rugby brain at No.8, big Bob Casey a major force. Mind you people forget we nearly lost the quarter-final against St Mary’s, we were just a kick away from losing that. We nearly slipped on a banana skin that day.”
The class of 1996
Tom Keating; Michael Price, Greg Duffy, David Quinlan, David Johnson; Niall O’Donovan, Ciaran Scally; Trevor O’Rourke, Peter Smyth, Stephen Tanner, Keith Murphy, Bob Casey, Richard Woods, Barry Gibney (c), Leo Cullen.
Replacements: Gareth Ryan, Mark Fearon, John Spellman, Conor Coughlan, Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Kelly, Darragh Kavanagh