Mike Orchin-McKeever, the new Director of Rugby at Ballyclare High, says he is looking forward to the challenge of developing young players as a new era dawns for the game at the school.
Orchin-McKeever takes over from New Zealander Dan Soper who guided the First XV to a Schools’ Cup final in 2012. Soper has taken up a new role at Royal Belfast Academical Institution - his successor’s alma mater.
The progress the High School made in rugby under Soper’s watch was remarkable, but Carrick man Orchin-McKeever doesn’t feel any pressure to ensure he goes one step better and guide them to their first Schools’ Cup success since 1973. Rather he regards his new position as a chance take a player’s raw, individual potential, shaping them into a team player and a capable performer on the pitch.
“I’ll be overseeing all aspects of rugby from arranging fixtures, the health and safety element, developing coaches and overseeing all teams, with the primary focus on First XV and Medallion,” he said.
“I see the role as an opportunity to create a conveyor belt of better quality players from first year through the age levels into Medallion and to create a more competent, commutative player for the First XV and senior rugby.
“A large focus, as well, is not to be just deemed a Schools’ Cup competing side, but to develop better players for when they leave school for life-long experience of rugby.”
He may only be 29 but Orchin-McKeever, whose love for the game shines through, has already gained a wealth experience both as a player and a coach.
From Victoria Primary School he went to Downshire for a year and a half before moving on to Inst where his first competitive game of rugby was, ironically, against Ballyclare High.
“When I went up to RBAI, a real strong rugby school, I enjoyed the Medallion season there and three years in the First XV. Gaining representative honours just kept encouraging me to play more and more rugby,” he revealed.
It was during his time at RBAI that he experienced the highs and the lows of the Schools’ Cup final, narrowly losing to Methody in 2001 before getting his hands on the trophy in 2003 at the expense of Wallace High.
He played for Ulster Schools, was involved in the Ulster Rugby Academy and played with Ulster under-21s.
It was just after he left school when coaching the game also became one of his passions.
“Whenever I went to the Ulster Academy I went back to my old school to coach Year Eight on Saturday mornings and then I was involved in coaching at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and for while at Belfast High School with Michael Rainey.”
Orchin-McKeever also captained the Irish Colleges, the university side, for two seasons and at club level has represented Instonians, Belfast Harlequins and Dublin-based Blackrock.
He also enjoyed spells abroad, first with Natal Sharks (South Africa) for a Currie Cup season, before obtaining a contract to play for Italian outfit Udine.
Now he is back living in his native East Antrim and has already got the ball rolling at Ballyclare High with training sessions up and running.
“We began pre-season over a week ago and the players are getting used to my way of communicating. I have brought in a few conditioned games which are maybe a bit different from what the boys are used to,” he said.
“We have had a great turnout so far. We have a 30-man senior squad and a 25-man Medallion squad who are training alongside eachother, so that’s very encouraging.
“At the moment it’s hard to tell how strong or physical they are going to be or how competent they are, but there’s plenty of time for development. Again, we are developing at each age level and that’s the most important thing.
“For me, it’s great to be returning home. I’m a Carrickfergus man and to come home to East Antrim after a few years away is great. I’m looking forward to making a difference to rugby in the area and especially at Ballyclare High School.”