As one year blends into another, there is nothing like a cup competition to whet the appetite for firmer pitches, sun-kissed afternoons and the sweet satisfaction of locking away another trophy in the clubhouse cabinet.
All that and more lays ahead for the prospective winners of the 2007/08 AIB Cup and AIB Junior Cup titles who are, for the most part, just two matches away from reaching the finals in April.
For some clubs the current season still encompasses a two-pronged attack with league and cup glory to be had – Garryowen, most notably, are attempting to retain both the Division One and AIB Cup trophies.
For others, like the mid-table trio of Galwegians, UCD and St. Mary’s College, their cup odysseys are their only remaining chances this term for national silverware.
The AIB Cup quarter-final draw, which took place at Stradbrook after Blackrock College’s third round win over Cork Constitution on January 5, has, as ever, thrown up some intriguing ties.
Champions Garryowen, who are aiming to make the last-four for the third year running, face a tricky trip to their top flight rivals Clontarf.
‘Tarf lost to the Limerick men at the quarter-final stage in 2006 but Andy Wood’s current crop have the potential to match anyone on their day, particularly when half-backs Ian Keatley and Paul O’Donohoe are on song.
The match-up at scrum half between O’Donohoe and Garryowen’s Gerry Hurley will be worth the admission price alone at Castle Avenue.
Another all-Division One fixture will see Blackrock entertaining a UCD outfit that caught the eye in the previous round when they beat UL Bohemians 27-22.
‘Rock and UCD are due to meet in the league at Stradbrook on March 1 and the quarter-final offers a great chance for both sides to make their mark on the competition.
Munster have had a stranglehold on the cup over its first two seasons and Shannon, given their current league standing and their cup pedigree, could well be the team to keep it down south.
The reigning Munster Senior Cup champions are away to St. Mary’s College or Clonakilty in the last-eight and no doubt will be all out to grasp a trophy that has so far eluded them and their eight-time league medallist Andrew Thompson.
Galwegians, the only Connacht team left standing, enjoyed a seven-try 37-13 defeat of Old Belvedere in the previous round and home advantage could be key for Paul Young’s charges when they line out against either Malone or Bruff.
Although seven out of the AIB Cup’s remaining ten teams are Division One sides, the trophy could yet find a home at the clubhouse of Division Two’s Malone or Clonakilty, or Division Three pace-setters Bruff.
The Limerick club, who currently boast the best defensive record in the entire league, are chasing the promotion place they left behind them last season and who is to say that Eugene Murnane’s impressive outfit cannot keep on track in the AIB Cup too?
Their postponed third round match from earlier this month, away to Malone, has been pencilled in for next Sunday at Gibson Park.
The other outstanding match from the third round – between St. Mary’s College and Clonakilty – will go ahead at Templeville Road next Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the AIB Junior Cup continues apace and holders Seapoint are still very much in the running for back-to-back titles.
The Dubliners accounted for Kinsale in round one and must travel to their Leinster Junior League rivals Tullamore in the quarter-finals.
But a note of caution – Tullamore had a fine 37-3 win over Connacht league leaders Monivea last time out in the cup and Kevin Lewis’ men are particularly difficult to down at Spollanstown.
The remaining Junior Cup quarter-finals are inter-provincial affairs with Clonmel hosting a buoyant Westport, who beat Castlebar in their Mayo derby, and Ulster’s sole representatives Clogher Valley are away to darkhorses Navan.
Meanwhile, Crosshaven, who reached the semi-finals last season, must travel to Sligo.
2007/08 AIB CUP FIXTURES:
Saturday, February 2 –
Malone v Bruff, Gibson Park, 2.30pm
Clontarf v Garryowen, Castle Avenue, 4.30pm
Sunday, February 3 –
St. Mary’s College v Clonakilty, Templeville Road, 2.30pm
Blackrock College v UCD, Stradbrook, 2.30pm
2007/08 AIB JUNIOR CUP FIXTURES:
Saturday, February 2 –
Navan v Clogher Valley, Balreask Old, 1pm
Clonmel v Westport, Ard Na Gaoithe, 2.30pm
Sligo v Crosshaven, Hamilton Park, 12pm
Sunday, February 3 –
Tullamore v Seapoint, Spollanstown, 2.30pm
– This article first appeared in ‘In Touch’, the official IRFU magazine in association with O2, published free with the Irish Independent last Monday