Once upon a time we dressed in wine and gold and took the bus to Lansdowne Road. And we won’t ever forget what happened that day.
There’s been a lot of old familiar rhyme this week about what separates the good teams from the great ones, and there’s little doubt any more which way this Ireland rugby team is going – no matter what outcome unfolds at the Aviva Stadium late on Saturday afternoon.
What unfolded there this same weekend 40 years ago separated two teams in another way; a good team, and one which went where no team had gone before – and in another way since. In there lies a lasting lesson and one always worth revisiting.
It wasn’t Ireland beating England 25-15 in the Five Nations finale on the Saturday; that was no great surprise, Ireland having put England to the sword at Twickenham the year before. Ireland ended up sharing the championship with France that year.
The chance to make Irish rugby history beckoned the following day, Sunday March 20th, at least in the schoolboy game, when De La Salle Churchtown faced Castleknock College in the 1983 Leinster Schools Senior Cup. Revolution was in the air – and it felt that way even going along as an 11-year-old, in fifth class of the primary school, some of us having never thrown a rugby ball before in our lives (and in some cases since).
Traditionally played on St Patrick’s Day, the game was put back to the Sunday to help spare the pitch at the old Lansdowne Road, part of the deal being RTÉ would keep their cameras in place, which meant the final went on TV live for the first time.
After Blackrock College won the first Cup final back in 1887, the competition soon became the establishment of the rugby-playing private schools of Leinster, even more so after the free education scheme was introduced in 1967, given so few rugby-playing schools opted to join it.
So going along that Sunday in March, few, if anyone, gave the school a chance. Particularly given our still-developing suburb of Churchtown. De La Salle didn’t even field a schools rugby team until 1957, starting in the Junior Cup. Just over a decade later they contested their first Senior Cup final, losing to Belvedere 14-11. Just under a decade on they made a second final, in 1975, losing that too, 11-7 to Blackrock.
Castleknock were favourites and for good reason, coming through the rough side of the draw (which took out Belvedere, Blackrock and Clongowes); De La Salle, winning only four of their 20 pre-season matches, scraped past Roscrea in their semi-final, 3-0.
For Castleknock, who hadn’t won the Cup since 1965 (and still haven’t), the match would likely be won by their superior pack, and nearly was. All the newspaper accounts of that day are still here in the black-and-white of the Cup souvenir edition of Wine and Gold, our 1983 school magazine.
Con Houlihan dedicated his entire Evening Press column to the match…
Read More: two great upsets in schools rugby never to be repeated – The Irish Times 2023-03-18 05:03:32