BY DENIS HURLEY
THE week just gone is mid-term, allowing Bandon Grammar School to engage in extra preparations for next Wednesday’s Clayton Hotels Munster Schools Senior Cup semi-final appearance.
For the first time ever, Bandon are in the last four of the province’s premier rugby competition, with Cork’s Presentation Brothers College providing the opposition in Musgrave Park (kick-off 2pm, live on eir Sport).
Tuesday and Friday of this week saw gym-work and video analysis from 9am-1pm, while on Wednesday the team trained jointly with the Bandon RFC junior side, focusing primarily on set-piece situations, benefiting from forwards’ coach Régis Sonnes’ dual roles with the two sides.
Bandon captain, flanker Colin Deane, is hopeful that the school’s odyssey can continue as the side benefits from having so many of the team which reached the quarter-finals of last year’s competition.
‘We knew that we’d have eight or nine back, so there’d be a strong team there again this year,’ he says.
‘This year’s team is nearly all sixth years and that definitely does bring a bit advantage. We’ve been training since the middle of August, aiming to peak for this time of year and things have gone to plan so far.
‘Brian Shanahan and Adam Doyle did a load of work with us, we built up a lot of fitness even before school started, we were always building towards the spring.’
Deane is a Clonakilty native, and the team has a ‘United Nations of West Cork’ look to it, with players from Bandon itself, Dunmanway, Skibbereen and Kinsale all featuring in the green and black.
Such a geographical array is of course dwarfed by how far Sonnes, a native of Mont-de-Marsan in France, has come to make his contribution. It’s a welcome one, as Deane outlines.
‘From a forwards’ point of view, he brings a lot of attention to detail,’ he says.
‘The video analysis we have done this year has been a great help too, especially at set-pieces, it has given us a real grasp of what we’re trying to do.
‘The whole backroom set-up is very good, really. We have Denis and James [Collins, head coach and backs coach respectively] and Philip Murphy is with James too. The more bodies you have, the more everybody can share the load, which has to be a good thing.’
Perhaps what makes Bandon’s rise to the upper echelons of Munster rugby all the more impressive is the fact that the same group of players didn’t make much of an impact at junior level.
‘We struggled in the B competitions,’ Deane says.
‘I think what happens is that in the more renowned schools, the coaching they get from the very start at first year puts them ahead for a time, but we have seen it leveling off as we have come up through the ranks.
‘Now, we’re just hoping that we can take it on another step next week.’
Just over a year ago, Deane was in the second row as Bandon lost to PBC at the quarter-final stage, with competition for back-row spots very high and regular lock Conor Scully out injured.
Now, he is playing at openside, his preferred choice, and looking forward to leading his team into battle.
‘There are a lot of leaders, I’m just lucky enough to be called the captain,’ he says.
‘We have a lot of sixth years with experience, guys know what their jobs and they do them, it’s not as if you have to be telling them what to do.
‘In the quarter-final against St Munchin’s, against the wind in the second half, everybody was calm and just focused on the task.
‘It’ll be the same the next day, Pres haven’t been hugely tested so far and it’s up to us to do that.’