History will be made at Dubarry Park on Saturday afternoon as first-time finalists Armagh and City of Derry look to etch their name on the AIB Junior Cup trophy. A close encounter is expected – the sides have met twice in the Ulster Qualifying League this season, with 11-point wins for the home outfit on each occasion.
AIB JUNIOR CUP FINAL: Saturday, January 30
Preview/Team News: Coaches Andy Hughes and Bevan Lynch have picked along expected lines for this all-Ulster clash, with very few weaknesses in the respective Armagh and Derry line-ups.
Player-coach Hughes will take his place in the Armagh back row, while Derry have Mark O’Connor lining out on the left wing fresh from his heroics in kicking Ulster past Munster and into the Irish Colleges Interpro final.
Armagh and City of Derry are both bidding to become the first Ulster club to be crowned AIB Junior Cup champions since Rainey Old Boys won the final in 2006.
With the pair of them riding high in the Ulster Qualifying League and promotion to the senior ranks remaining a serious goal, Saturday’s cup final offers a chance to make some history and lay down a marker for the remainder of the season.
Derry defeated Monivea from Galway 26-11 in the recently refixed semi-finals, while Armagh defeated the current champions Tullamore 21-8 to book their place in the decider.
Armagh and Derry have been the kingpins in Ulster junior rugby for the last two years, with Derry coming out on top last year with four victories over their northern opponents – two on their way to winning the Kukri Qualifying League and the other two came in the Towns Cup and the Junior Cup with City winning both trophies.
Armagh are currently flying high at the top of the Kukri Qualifying League, ten points ahead of Derry but having played two games more than their north west opponents.
Armagh and Derry have posted one victory over each other already this season, with both sides winning their home Kukri Qualifying League fixtures.
Saturday’s showdown will, judging by past games between these rivals, be a closely contested affair with the result probably in doubt right to the finish.
The performances of the respective out-halves could swing it either way. Armagh’s number 10 Adam Gowing was the standout player when the teams met in their first league game in Armagh when they defeated Derry 24-13.
Gowing set up two tries for Andrew Willis and Eddie Irwin while also adding one conversion and two penalties. His astute kicking kept Derry on the back foot all day and player-coach Hughes will be looking for a repeat performance this Saturday.
When the teams met in the return league fixture in Derry, the hosts’ out-half Richard McCarter was man-of-the-match, producing a performance from the Gods in the second half.
Armagh were leading 8-5 at the break and were to lose their out-half Gowing with an injury soon afterwards. Enter McCarter to score 16 unanswered points. There were two penalties and a drop goal, before a charge down led to him scoring a try with a 50-metre run, adding the conversion for good measure.
Then when Armagh came back to get within a bonus point of Derry, McCarter, with the last play of the game, produced an exquisite pass to his winger Rudi Moore to score a try in the corner and make it 26-15.
Bevan Lynch will be looking to McCarter, an AIB Club international player of past seasons, to provide the inspirational performance that will guide Derry to a landmark victory this season.
There has been a great friendship between these two great northern rivals off the pitch going back many years. Irrespective of the result on Saturday the losers will be happy for their opponents and both teams will celebrate an Ulster success.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: City of Derry to win by 1-5 points
* IrishRugby.ie will have a full match report and post-match reaction from the Junior final on the site on Saturday afternoon.
ARMAGH: Johnny Steenson; Jonny Allen, Leigh Manu, Peter Elliott, Matty Irwin; Adam Gowing, Matty Wright; Brian Patterson, James Johnston, Melvin Hopps, Jamie Cornett, James Morton (capt), Joe Clarke, Andy Hughes, Tim Clarke.
Replacements: Peter Lamb, Dermot Costello, Stephen Morton, Phil Hill, Davy Martin, Andrew Willis, Stuart Lester.
CITY OF DERRY: Peter Henderson; Josh Lewis, David Funston, Jarred Bennett, Mark O’Connor; Richard McCarter, Andrew Semple; David Witherow, Sam McAuley, Chris Shields, David Houston, Bob McKillop (capt), Karl Gemmell, Stephen Corr, Mark Walker.
Replacements: Jason Mitchell, Stephen Ferguson, Stephen Simms, Simon Logue, Rudi Moore, Philip Brady, Sam Duffy.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)