familiar face

Tomorrow's finalists Belvedere College had a UFC star in their winning team of 10 years ago

From the Leinster Schools Cup final to the Octagon.

SEVERAL MEMBERS OF the team who won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 2005 went on to become professional sportsmen, but not just in rugby.

While the likes of Cian Healy, Ian Keatley, Eoin O’Malley and Paul O’Donohoe pursued full-time careers in the game, second-row forward Cathal Pendred followed a different path.

Pendred swapped rugby for mixed martial arts after stumbling upon an MMA gym while spending a summer in San Diego, and today he’s one of Ireland’s top UFC stars.

The 27-year-old welterweight is currently preparing for his next bout, which will take place in Mexico City on 13 June when he takes on Augusto Montano.

#4 Cathal Pendred wins a line-out during the 2005 Leinster Schools Senior Cup final.

Pendred will fly to the Mexican capital in the morning for some promotional duties ahead of the fight, but as soon as he lands he’ll be searching for news of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup final between Cistercian College Roscrea and Belvedere College — his alma mater.

“It’s great that they made the final 10 years on from when we won it, but it’s unfortunate that I can’t be there,” said Pendred. “There’s a dinner being organised for the players and parents of the 2005 team for the weekend after next though, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Playing against a Blackrock College team that included Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Niall Morris and Vasily Artemyev — the Russian wing who went on to play for Northampton Saints — Belvo ended a 33-year wait for the cup with a 16-10 win in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Lansdowne Road.

“It was a massive deal,” Pendred recalls. “It was like playing in a World Cup I suppose. That’s what it feels like when you’re 17. It was huge, especially because Belvo hadn’t won the cup in 33 years up until that point.

“Of the team that started for Blackrock, I think 12 or 13 of them had Irish schools caps, whereas we only had one — and that was (Cian) Healy. So we were massive underdogs, but we were a very tight team and we worked really hard.

“I learned so much from that experience, going forward into my own career. The most important impact it had on me was that it taught me how to be a professional athlete, because we were training like professional athletes, in before school three or four mornings a week.

“We were following strength and conditioning programmes, nutrition, sports psychology… it all left a big impression on me and I wouldn’t be where I am today without those experiences.”

Despite later moving away from rugby, Pendred is one of Belvedere College’s most famous past pupils thanks to his achievements in the UFC, where he’s been successful in all three of his bouts since his debut in Dublin last July.

Cathal Pendred with Sean Spencer Cathal Pendred is undefeated in the UFC. Emily Harney / INPHO Emily Harney / INPHO / INPHO

He said: “I actually got a letter from the headmaster a couple of weeks ago, wishing me well for the future and congratulating me on what I’ve achieved so far. That was great to get. All my closest friends went to Belvo as well so there’s a strong connection there still.”

He’s disappointed to be missing tomorrow’s game at the RDS, but Pendred is confident that Belvedere College can win their 11th title at the expense of CC Roscrea, who are aiming for their first.

“I’d imagine Belvo are the favourites,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, they look a very good team so hopefully they can go and win it. I wish them all the best anyway.”

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