Gala ball will celebrate Cambridge House’s rugby heritage

Former Ireland international Brian Robinson is arguably Cambridge House's best-known rugby-playing 'old boy'. Picture: Press Eye.
Former Ireland international Brian Robinson is arguably Cambridge House's best-known rugby-playing 'old boy'. Picture: Press Eye.

Cambridge House Grammar School will look back on its rich rugby history at a special function this weekend.

The Galgorm Road school’s Rugby Development Group is hosting a gala ball in the Leighinmohr House Hotel this Friday evening, February 6.

The purpose of the event is to raise funds for the continued development of rugby within the school but also to show appreciation to past pupils who have achieved representation at provincial, international and British and Irish Lions level.

Cambridge House’s most famous rugby ‘old boy’ is Brian Robinson who, in spite of receiving a serious knee injury which threatened his early career, played his first game for Ireland against France in February 1991, and went on to collect a further 24 caps as well as touring with the British and Irish Lions team.

Dean Macartney, who had toured Australia with the Irish Schools’ side, also served Ballymena with distinction, being their captain in the 1998-99 season and he also played for a spell with French club Pau. Many observers feel he was unfortunate never to win a full Irish cap.

Cambridge House’s contribution to Ballymena Rugby Club has been outstanding over the years and the 2003 All-Ireland League-winning team included two former Cambridge House pupils in Norman McKernan and Derrick Topping, the latter of whom also played for Ulster.

Around the same era as Dean Macartney, Mark Allen, David Cochrane, John Johnston, Stephen Cameron and Willie McAllister and the Wasson twins - Robert and John, all played regularly, although not together, for Ballymena First XV, while many others figured in the lesser Eaton Park sides.

Among quite a large number who, over a period of time, threw in their lot with the Ballymena club, but mostly figuring on the club’s middle-order teams, were Uel Hoey, Glen McKnight, Paddy Irwin, Brian Armstrong, Shane Glynn, Harry Gaston, the Johnston brothers, (Richard, Ian and Alan) Wallace Gregg and his brother Rab, to name but a few. Rab Gregg of course later returned to the school to teach PE and to coach rugby.

More recently, Jamie Smith represented Ballymena and Ulster before joining Gwent Dragons in Wales, but injury cut short his very promising career. He returned to Eaton Park, but had to retire very prematurely although he is still involved in coaching duties at Cambridge House.

Roger McBurney also played for the Ballymena senior side before joining Ballynahinch.

Over recent years, the representation of Cambridge House boys in the Ballymena sides has steadily increased, and presently Stephen Mulholland, Tim Small, Philip Small, Darrell Montgomery, Christopher da Mata, and the Cundell brothers, Christopher and Andrew, are all challenging for First XV places at Eaton Park, with quite a number of others playing in the club’s lower sides.

Adrian Hamilton, who last season won the Ulster Club Player of the Year award, has temporarily gone to Scotland to complete a further degree, but will return to Eaton Park at the conclusion of his studies.

It promises to be a memorable night of rugby nostalgia for the school. The event will be compered by UTV’s Ken Reid.