The All-Ireland Junior Cup final on Saturday, April 9 will be a Munster-Connacht affair after Crosshaven and Monivea emerged victorious from the weekend’s semi-finals.
ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP SEMI-FINAL RESULTS: Saturday, February 12
Crosshaven 6 Sligo 5, Myrtleville Cross
Cooke 22 Monivea 27, Shaw’s Bridge
Crosshaven will be the first winners of the cup from Munster if they prevail in the April final, while Monivea are bidding to be the first champions from Connacht.
Roared on by a big home crowd, Crosshaven claimed a 6-5 win over Sligo in a titanic tussle at Myrtleville Cross. Liam Delaney’s last-minute drop goal was the decisive score for the Cork side.
Sligo, who are riding high at the top of the Connacht League, won the toss and played with the advantage of a strong wind in the opening half.
The conditions played their part in the early stages with a number of passes not going to hand, and the match was largely fought out between the two packs.
Sligo out-half Mark Butler landed some excellent touchfinders in the first 40 minutes, but the visitors could not convert their territorial advantage into points.
Merle O’Connell, the former Cork Constitution lock, and Darren O’Shea excelled in the lineout for Crosshaven, while number 8 Eamon Ring was part of a strong ball-carrying effort from the Munstermen.
Butler missed his first shot at the posts – a 40-metre penalty midway through the first period – and the Sligo forwards were then thwarted close to the home line. Jamie Bowes’ lineout take set up a maul, but Crosshaven were able to defend it.
However, they could do nothing to stop Sligo winger Jordan Farrington from scoring in the corner and setting up a 5-0 half-time lead. The Sligo forwards made the initialy headway before play was switched to the blindside where Farrington had the pace to get over.
Crosshaven got off the mark in the 49th minute, their forwards again working hard in the build-up. Centre Ross O’Connell deserves credit for a strong run too, and a few phases later out-half Delaney stroked a drop goal home.
Sligo responded in great fashion, with back rowers Cathal Culhane and Paddy Conlon typifying the huge effort being put in.
The visitors’ defence was rock solid and their discipline only let them down on one occasion. They allowed Delaney line up a penalty in the 59th minute, but his kick went narrowly wide.
Crosshaven were camped in the Sligo half for much of the final quarter. The score looked like it might not come for them, until captain Ross O’Connell broke from the halfway line and made the Sligo 22.
The ball was recycled and worked through the forwards before Delaney showed nerves of steel to slot the match-winning drop goal.
Myrtleville Cross erupted with delight when the final whistle was blown shortly afterwards, with coaches David Keane and Sean Conway and their squad through to their first ever All-Ireland final.
The second semi-final, which was played at Shaw’s Bridge in Belfast, was another close run thing. Galway club Monivea looked to be coasting when they built a 20-0 first half lead.
Their strong start included a try from centre Kevin Higgins after just two minutes’ play. Winger Ger Divilly added a second try in the 11th minute, with out-half Ger O’Connor kicking two conversions and two penalties.
Higgins’ effort came from a cross-field kick from O’Connor which bounced into the arms of Divilly who supplied the final pass.
The Monivea pack set the tone with a workmanlike performance in the opening stages. Young lock Conor Kindregan was strong in the set piece and in the loose, and scrum half Darren Blade played the link man role to a tee.
But Davy O’Hanlon’s sin-binning before the break seemed to rouse Cooke into action at the start of the second half. They began to win the collisions and retain possession, and a converted try from captain Niall McCordrick boosted their confidence.
Stuart Lang added another, with Clive Karnezos supplying his second conversion, and suddenly Monivea’s lead was down to 20-14. Mickey Rainey’s side were right back in the hunt after a difficult start.
Back came the Connacht League outfit and an intercept try from Dave Prior, which O’Connor converted, proved vital in the end for a disciplined and clinical Monivea side.
Wind-backed Cooke fought on impressively and claimed a final try from O’Hanlon and a penalty from Andy Hassard, but the damage had been done and it is Monivea who march on.
The game was highly competitive and another great advertisement for junior rugby in Ireland, with the crowd getting really involved. Roll on the final in April when new champions will be crowned.
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