Northern Ireland

Sullivan Upper boys become Holywood heroes

Sullivan Upper celebrate success
Image caption Sullivan Upper celebrate success after beating Coleraine Inst

It is better known for golf and GCSE results, but Sullivan Upper School is celebrating reaching its first rugby Schools Cup final.

The County Down school has been waiting 137 years to qualify for the annual Ravenhill showdown.

Its most famous ex-pupil is the former world number one golfer Rory McIlroy, who used to live across the road from the Holywood school, and went there for four years before swapping the classroom for the golf course.

Founded in Holywood in 1877, the year after the Schools' Cup began, Sullivan Upper built up a reputation for academic success rather than sporting prowess. The old joke about the school from rival teams was "at Sullivan, they teach you how to lose".

However, this year's rugby team blazed a trail to the Schools' Cup final with a convincing 27-14 semi-final victory over Coleraine Inst on Thursday, in spite of being reduced to 13 men in the last 10 minutes. It earned them the nickname, the Holywood heroes.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rory McIlroy is the school's most famous former pupil

The team's coach Willie Anderson, who was capped 27 times by Ireland in the 1980s, described reaching the schools' final as a career highlight.

"It's one of the greatest moments in my life," he said.

"It's fantastic for the school. It's the first time. The players are an absolute credit to themselves, their families and the school."

Anderson made sporting headlines around the world in 1989 when he led he led the charge as the Irish team confronted New Zealand's famous Haka before a match at Dublin's Lansdowne Road.

Now he is hoping to help create Schools' Cup history by coaching Sullivan to victory in the St Patrick's day final. It is the second oldest rugby competition in the world and steeped in sporting tradition.

Although Sullivan has an academic rather than an athletic reputation, in recent years it has produced a number of sports stars including Ulster and Ireland rugby player Darren Cave, Winter Olympics snowboarder Aimee Fuller and athlete Katie Kirk who helped to light the Olympic flame at the London games.

Image caption The victory delighted Sullivan coach Willie Anderson

The manager of Linfield football club David Jeffrey, who has won 31 trophies, is also a former pupil.

In the 17 March final at Ravenhill, Sullivan will play Methodist College, who have won the cup a record 36 times.

Looking ahead to the match, coach Anderson said his team would be the underdogs.

"They've beaten us twice (this season), they're the favourites, but we've got a bunch of boys here who have got a dream as well," he said.

After a 137-year wait to reach a final, it would be a fairytale ending for Sullivan and headmaster Chris Peel to win on their first final appearance.

For Methody, it will be their 60th final but their first at the recently-redeveloped Ravenhill.

Sullivan's school motto is 'lamh foisdineach an uachtar', an Irish phrase which means 'the gentle hand foremost'.

Sullivanites will be hoping the hand of history is upon them on St Patrick's Day. After all, the school colour is green.

More on this story