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How Annadale broke the Schools Cup' monopoly in '58

 

By Jim McDowell ·

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History makers: Annadale celebrate their shock Schools’ Cup win in 1958

The headline in the Ireland's Saturday Night sports paper read: 'A 'new' school in the Cup final at Ravenhill'.

The byline underneath was: 'By Peter McMullan'.

Back then, 60 years ago this week, Peter McMullan was one of the doyens of Irish rugby correspondents.

He was the suave, sagely and astute staff rugby reporter for both the ISN - dubbed 'The Ulster', or 'The Pink' - and its parent paper, the Belfast Telegraph.

So what he penned was deemed to be appropriate, accurate and respected.

Most of the newspapers previewing that 1958 Ulster Schools' Cup final between Campbell College and Annadale noted that 'Campbell will start firm favourites'.

Indeed, even the match day programme on that St Patrick's Day three score years ago contrasted the history of the competing schools.

It noted that Campbell College had been founded in 1894 and had competed in their first Schools' Cup in 1898.

They had reached the final on 25 occasions and had won the Cup 15 times.

Annadale - a boys' school which later merged with the nearby Carolan grammar girls' school to become Wellington College - was only founded in 1950, well over half a century after Campbell.

They'd therefore only competed for four seasons in the Schools' Cup, and March 17, 1958 was the first time they had reached the final (the school First XV made the final 30 years later, in 1978, but were beaten by Bangor Grammar School: the only other time it reached the final).

As Peter McMullan wrote: "Campbell had a well-founded name and reputation over a long period of time."

However, both presciently and prophetically, he added: "An Annadale victory would give a great fillip to Schools' rugby and would help break the recent monopoly that Methody, Inst and Campbell have enjoyed in the competition."

The Belfast News Letter's rugby writer also underpinned that "tradition and experience were on Campbell's side".

But he added: "The majority of the 'neutrals' in the expected 15,000 crowd would be encouraging Annadale in their efforts to score an historic victory."

Well, both a 'fillip' and an 'historic' win were to unravel at Ravenhill that fine and sunny St Patrick's Day.

As Ken Young, the Annadale full-back then, who has now compiled an anniversary brochure celebrating the shock win, and dedicated to the memory of those 'Dale players and coach who have since passed on, recalls:

"In March 1958:

  • Private Elvis Presley was inducted into the United States Army.
  • Nikita Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union.
  • The No.1 record in the hit parade was Perry Como's 'Magic Moments'.
  • And on St Patrick's Day, Annadale Grammar School, when beating Campbell College 5-0 in the final, won the Ulster Schools' Cup for the first and only time."

It was indeed a game-changer, because, as Peter McMullan had mooted, the young school had broken the monopoly of the older, well-established rugby schools and their stranglehold on the Schools' Cup.

But it was two well-established Ulster Senior League rugby players, 'Chuck' Evans of CIYMS and 'Bolo' Brown of Instonians, both Masters at Annadale, who had coached the side to the final, and victory.

Many of the team met at the front of Belfast City Hall on the big match day.

Many of the team met at the front of Belfast City Hall on the big match day.

Young recalls: "Excitement and anticipation grew when team members saw rosettes with their faces displayed for sale."

They then took a bus to the home of one of the rugby squad's parents, for a final team meeting with teachers Evans and Brown.

The Annadale skipper was Ken McNamara. In spite of his side being the odds-against underdogs, and the pressure of the school being in its first final against seasoned and serial Cup winners Campbell, he said the mood among the whole team was "relaxed and jovial, which was what 'Chuck' had hoped for".

There was banter on the way to the big game at Ravenhill…and a 'colourful' surprise when they got to the ground.

The redoubtable Dickie Mears, later to follow in the footsteps of 'Chuck' and pull on the black and white stripes of CIYMS, got a bit of stick because he had three initials before his surname in the match programme… and was bantered that that being the case, he should have been playing for Campbell!

And the 'colour' was applied the night before the game even kicked off.

John Trew, later to become the Editor of the Belfast News Letter, was a pupil at Annadale in 1958.

He gained the soubriquet 'Goal Post Artist' because, in his own words: "Accompanied by a couple of mates, I climbed into the Ravenhill grounds the night before the match armed with a bucket of paste, a pair of scissors and crepe paper in Annadale red.

"We pasted the paper round the white goal posts which replicated Annadale's red and white hoops.

"A dog barked in the near distance and we made a speedy exit. Unfortunately in doing so, I gashed my leg quite badly.

"But I did not miss the match and the sight of my artistic touches in the daylight."

That was the sight that greeted both teams, Campbell and Annadale, on arrival.

Afterwards, there were, of course, jubilant scenes among the Annadale supporters, both on the pitch, in the changing room, and when the Cup was paraded in front of the whole school at assembly the next day.

The next day, too, the newspaper headlines proclaimed the breakthrough and applauded the significant, if not seismic, schools' rugby sporting shock.

'Annadale shock the critics with Schools' Cup win', read one.

'First-timers Annadale win the Cup', read another.

'Annadale were worthy winners of the Schools' Cup', read another.

And history was indeed made, with a try scored by centre Victor Beavis converted by out-half Ernie Hewitt (it was three points for a try and two for a conversion back then).

Rugby Magazine wrote: "The victory was a wonderful boost for the new school and, even more important, a wonderful encouragement to other schools who must have felt this particular task impossible."

But back to where we started: with Peter McMullan in the Belfast Telegraph.

The revered correspondent wrote: "Annadale, while underdogs, beat a much-fancied Campbell team to make history in the Schools' Cup.

"Campbell had started favourites in the eyes of the critics, the prophets and even those who would rather have seen an Annadale victory."

Sixty years on, at the start of his commemorative brochure, Young dedicates it to the memory of those who were part of the mould-breaking Cup win who have since passed on: 'Chuck' Evans, Teacher & Coach; Victor Beavis; John Crowther; Jim 'Bantam' Hanna; and Ernie Hewitt.

The big fellow ends it with the Annadale school motto.

Virtus Fortunae Comes - Fortune Favours the Brave.

History-makers to roll back years at Kingspan

The Annadale motto of 'Fortune Favours The Brave' was certainly the case on that famous St Patrick's Day of March 17, 1958 when they made history against Campbell College.

The First XV team that took the field was as follows: K.S. Young; B. Hood, V.L. Beavis, J. Crowther, T.G. Lyons; W.E. Hewitt, J. Larmour; K.G. Bowes, C.F. Burrell, K.G. Bowes, A. Byers, K.J. McNamara (Capt.), R.W. Sloan, R.D. Beggs, (and, with those three initials, the 'baby of the team') W.F.R. Mears.

The Annadale '58 Cup-winners will have a very special reunion lunch at the Kingspan on Monday.

The Ulster Branch have invited them to a box at the stadium where a commemorative video will also be shown marking their victory 60 years ago against Campbell College...who, of course, are again in the final this year.

They, for one, will certainly be hoping history doesn't repeat itself when they take on underdogs RS Armagh.

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History makers: Annadale celebrate their shock Schools’ Cup win in 1958
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From left: Ken McNamara, Charlie Burrell, Bobby Sloan, Erskine Holmes, Dickie Mears, David Coffey, Ronnie Frew, Alan Byers, Brian Hood, Ken Young, Ken Bowes