Ballymena and former champions Garryowen are set for a high noon duel when they contest the Ulster Bank Bateman Cup final at Templeville Road on Saturday (kick-off 12.35pm).
ULSTER BANK BATEMAN CUP FINAL: Saturday, April 28
BALLYMENA v GARRYOWEN, Templeville Road, 12.35pm (live RTÉ Two/www.rte.ie/live (worldwide))
Paths To The Final –
Ulster Senior Cup
– won 12-9 v Dungannon
– won 33-27 v City of Derry
– won 17-11 v Banbridge (final)
Ulster Bank Bateman Cup semi-final
– won 18-15 v Old Belvedere
Munster Senior Cup
– won 15-9 v Cork Constitution
– won 26-18 v Dolphin
– won 47-10 v Cashel
– won 19-9 v Bruff (final)
Ulster Bank Bateman Cup semi-final
– won 14-3 v Buccaneers
Preview: The RTÉ cameras will be at Templeville Road for the second week running with another national title on the line. Last weekend, St. Mary’s College delivered their first Ulster Bank League title in 12 years.
This Saturday home advantage will play no part as Ballymena and Garryowen travel to the Dublin 6W venue bidding to end the season as Ulster Bank Bateman Cup champions.
Garryowen will fancy their chances as the Division 1A side. They finished their league campaign in sixth position, posting eight wins in 18 games.
Their four try-scoring bonus points and seven losing bonuses show that Paul Cunningham’s men have a free-scoring touch and also dig their heels in tight encounters.
The Light Blues dashed Bruff’s dreams of repeating their Munster Senior Cup and Bateman Cup successes of last season, beating their Limerick rivals 19-9 in this season’s provincial decider.
They followed that up with a 14-3 Bateman Cup semi-final victory over Buccaneers. Winger Adam O’Loughlin scored a sixth minute try on the overlap to set them on their way, with out-half Fergal Lawlor landing three penalties.
Garryowen boast a strong squad mixed with youth and experience. Emerging backs like Corey Hircock, Cian O’Shea, Ronan O’Mahony and Neil Cronin have caught the eye in attack.
The evergreen Paul Neville, Garryowen’s captain once again in the injury-enforced absence of Conan Doyle, James Rael and David Sherry provide the spine of a physically imposing pack.
Last weekend’s 33-27 defeat of Blackrock College saw them run in four tries with Lawlor kicking the remaining 14 points. Likewise, Ballymena also posted a handsome tally when seeing off UCC 41-6 in their final Division 1B game.
It was their sixth try-scoring bonus point of the league run, and in a further boost ahead of the cup final their head coach John Andrews has agreed a two-year extension with the club.
Players like South African centre Richard Aingworth and Ulster’s Callum Black, Blane McIlroy and Luke Marshall have certainly shone this season.
But there are a number of unsung heroes coming to the fore for the Eaton Park club – the Andrew brothers, John, Joel and Ricky, being among them.
Coach Andrews sees a bright future for Ballymena and points to the fact that of the 62 players they have used between the firsts and seconds this season, 49 of them were schooled in Ballymena.
Forging a closer link with the local schools is paying off and should continue to do so in the coming seasons as Andrews’ charges look to break back into the top flight of the Ulster Bank League.
The players have certainly responded to Andrews whose side beat Banbridge 17-11 back in December to claim the Ulster Senior Cup. At the time, they were top of Division 1B too, but their promotion bid faltered in the spring.
Paul Pritchard and club captain Darrell O’Kane have led by example up front, while in-form winger Alasdair Frazer and flanker Andrew Kerr are hoping to pocket All-Ireland winners’ medals before they leave for pastures new.
Garryowen have the greater experience at this level – they were All-Ireland Cup champions back in 2007 – and can call on a strong bench to boot.
But Ballymena are more than capable of winning the first leg of what could be a famous Ulster double in Dublin, with the province facing Edinburgh later on in the Heineken Cup semi-final.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win by 1-5 points
All-Ireland Cup Champions’ Roll Of Honour:
2010/11 – Bruff
2009/10 – Cork Constitution
2008/09 – Ballynahinch
2007/08 – Shannon
2006/07 – Garryowen
2005/06 – Cork Constitution
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