Enniskillen Royal Grammar School coach Ashley Finlay is looking forward to the Schools’ Cup format with the school set to get their campaign underway this Saturday when they meet Portadown College.

Previously the competition would not have began until February time and was a straight knock out but now that has been changed with most schools entering a group stage section with placement in the group after three games determining which knock out competition they progressed into.

Six schools, namely the big Belfast four of Inst, Campbell, Methody and Wallace along with Armagh and Ballymena, have received byes into the last 16 of the Schools’ Cup but the rest will have to battle their way through the group to join those into the Schools’ Cup knock out phase.

“It is something different but it is something that we are looking forward to,” said Finlay. “I suppose in previous years you would have been playing friendlies up until January time building up to a knockout game but this way gives us more competitive action at this time of the year.

“We will have a few more short term targets and to guarantee your place in the last 16 you have to top your group so there is little room for error.”

ERGS have been drawn in a group alongside Royal School Dungannon, Portadown College and Larne Grammar School and as top seeds they will be fancied to progress as group toppers.

Finlay though is not looking any further ahead than the opening game against Portadown.

“The group games are must wins and with this format you need to top the group to ensure you progress.

“Ideally you want to win the group and not worry about best second placed positions to make the Schools’ Cup but for us it will just be about taking it one game at a time and that starts this Saturday against Portadown,” he stated.

ERGS also have two home games from their three so that gives them an advantage.

“We have Portadown and Dungannon at home which is a plus for us so we would fancy our chances in those games and we are away to Larne in our other game.

“As I say though our focus at this stage is on Portadown and we expect a big test. We have been keeping an eye on their results and they have been going pretty well this year so it will be a tough game but hopefully we can get the result,” he said.

Finlay also feels that a strong squad has helped push everybody on as they prepare for their opening encounter.

“We would have a good few of the Medallion team that reached the semi-finals two years ago in the squad and there really is a good mix there at the minute with regularly 50 boys training over the three age groups which is great.

“It is a very competitive squad and that’s what you want.”

ERGS will look to captain and centre Robbie Mills who is in his third year in the side to lead the way on Saturday while other key players will include number eight Callum Smyton who shone for Ulster U18s in the summer, Neil Rutledge in the second row and impressive out half Eddie Keys.