19 Jun, 06:50
A single point separated the sides as a hard-fought 5th-8th place play-off finished in France's favour at Stade Henri Desgrange on Tuesday night. Check out some photos from Ireland's fourth IRB Junior World Championsip match.
NAVAN v TULLAMORE, Dubarry Park, Athlone, 1pm
When these sides met in last year's AIB Junior Cup decider, the Meath men showed a clinical edge as tries from Karl Manning and David Geraghty, allied to 10 points from the boot of the Ryan Roberts, steered them to a 20-6 win.
But with Roberts injured, Geraghty away in Australia and talk of last year's final at a minimum, the champions are very much treating this game on its own merits.
Donnelly, who has been playing for Navan since the age of 7, said: "We're looking forward to it. Tullamore is always a tough game. They're a good strong bunch of lads - they don't give anything up too easily.
"But we'll prepare well and we're quite relaxed. We're strong across the board, forwards and backs and got a good win last week in the AIB League round robin.
"It would be great to win the AIB Junior Cup two years in-a-row. Any junior team in the country would love to be where we are at the moment."
Navan, the recently-crowned Leinster Junior League champions, moved a step closer to AIB League qualification with a gutsy 20-19 win over City of Derry last Saturday.
Donnelly was quick to praise the coaching staff for what has been an impressive season to date.
"We've player-coaches in Brad Harris and Ryan (Roberts). They're two huge coaches. They bring a different level to what we've had with most of the lads before.
"It's very hard to balance coaching with playing as well, but I think they do an immense job.
"Brad Harris...he has great ideas. He's a great motivator. They're very good at what they do."
Australian Harris is in his third season with the club and his strong work ethic has permeated throughout the squad.
"We're very much a 'team'. We don't have any individual player that we rely on. It's a real squad effort.
"This will be a tight match. I'd say there won't be more than a score in it. It can go either way with Tullamore," Donnelly added.
Standing in the red corner are Tullamore, who last week qualified for the Provincial Towns Cup final by beating Dundalk.
Buoyed by that 33-13 win at Donnybrook, skipper Gearoid O'Grady says the Offaly side are determined to gain national success.
The 23-year-old out-half, a former Connacht Junior Cup winner with Buccaneers, said: "Most of the guys have come up, playing with Tullamore, through the underage ranks. Everyone realises how much the club means to the town and means to themselves.
"They just want to go out and do the best they can for the team."
O'Grady, a prolific goal-kicker, says Tullamore have seen plenty of changes since last year's Athlone heartache.
Kiwi player-coach Andy Melville, who still holds the record for AIB League tries scored by a forward (46 tries), is in his first season in charge at Spollanstown.
Melly's 'simple, straightforward structures', according to O'Grady, have got Tullamore on the winning trail.
"Andy had success with getting Naas promoted to the AIB League. He was a very successful player down with Carlow over the years.
"He's doing a good job sharing his knowledge with the team. He's had a very positive effect on the team."
Tullamore have lost six of last year's starting team through retirements, college commitments and other reasons, but O'Grady insists they are a 'much more balanced team now'.
"We've five guys drafted in from a successful Under-20 team and they've made a huge difference. Niall Geraghty has come in at full-back and done a great job.
"I think this will be his third start and he's already scored four tries, so hopefully he can keep that record going.
"Rob Connor, who got injured against Cashel, has been our best player all season. He's typified the Tullamore ethic."
The obvious question, with the clubs meeting in the final for the second successive year, is will revenge be a factor for Tullamore?
O'Grady admitted: "A small bit but at the end of the day, regardless of who we're playing, it's an All-Ireland final and I don't think revenge is really a motivational factor.
"It won't be hard to get guys motivated because it's Navan, but it would be the same situation whoever we're playing."
NAVAN: Karl Manning; Thomas Geraghty, Simon Donnelly (capt), Sylvanus Iro, Simon Hogan, Alan Hickey, Kieran Mattson; Eddie Dunne, Conor Brady, David King, Stephen Byrne, John Duffy, Paul Fenney, Thomas Clarke, Bernard Smyth.
Replacements: John Baker, Owen Hanratty, Paul Regan, Shane Dawson, Alan O'Keefe, Maurice McAuley, Ciaran Joyce.
TULLAMORE: Niall Geraghty; Mark Whelan, Ivor Scully, Aaron Deverell, Colin Hughes; Gearoid O'Grady (capt), Richie Hughes; Ronan Glennon, Cian Glennon, Alvin Bracken, Dave Hanlon, Brian Geraghty, Donal Milne, Cathal Feighery, Colin Finnerty.
Replacements: Cian O'Sullivan, Ronan Scally, Darragh Lowry, Mick Harte, Andy Melville, Derek Farrell, Philip Gardiner.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Brian MacNeice, Frank Butler (IRFU)
* Teams correct at time of going to press
Irish Rugby TV: AIB Cup Junior Final Preview
The Friday Interview: AIB Junior Cup Final Special
Paths To The Final -
Navan: First Round: Beat Seapoint 23-12 at Kilbogget Park; Quarter-Final: Beat Ballymoney 36-12 at Balreask Old; Semi-Final: Beat Cill Dara 35-27 at Balreask Old
Tullamore: First Round: Beat Cooke 16-10 at Shaw's Bridge; Quarter-Final: Beat Wesport 29-8 at Carrowholly; Semi-Final: Beat Cashel 40-30 at Spollanstown
AIB Junior Cup Records -
Navan: 2005/06: Did not qualify; 2006/07: Did not qualify; 2007/08: Champions
Tullamore: 2005/06: Did not qualify; 2006/07: Reached first round; 2007/08: Runners-up
Leinster League Division One 2008/09 Performance -
AIB Junior Cup Past Winners -
2005/06: Rainey Old Boys (27-5 v Youghal, Lansdowne Road)
2006/07: Seapoint (47-15 v Coleraine, Dubarry Park)
2007/08: Navan (20-6 v Tullamore, Dubarry Park)