Once again, the Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup final has been given a brilliant final pairing. Two of the country’s most successful and engaged junior clubs from the past twelve months square up this Saturday in what promises to be a fiery and gripping contest. Rob Murphy of grassroots rugby website, Knockon.ie, previews the game.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP FINAL: Saturday, February 9
TULLAMORE v ENNISCORTHY, Cill Dara RFC, 2.30pm
Enniscorthy, the Towns Cup holders against Tullamore, already crowned Leinster League champions and holders of the All Ireland Junior Cup title which they won for a third time last season.
The Offaly men beat Kanturk 24-0 in the semi-final having accounted for Ballymoney and Monivea in previous rounds.
The Wexford side knocked out Skibbereen on the road before beating Donaghadee and winning 27-19 away to Clogher Valley.
Quite apart from the credentials, there is an added edge to this because of the familiarity between these sides in the Leinster league. ‘Scorthy have not matched Tullamore in terms of league victories but they have been close and they certainly know how to time a spark in form just in time for the cup competitions.
The venue for this final and the fact that it is an all-Leinster pairing will give this a ‘Towns Cup final’ atmosphere, but it probably will not play out like a Towns Cup final. This competition often produces some pretty open games and both sides will likely take the shackles off and have a right go.
Tullamore come into the final as favourites. They have not lost to the Wexford men in the past 12 months and stormed to the Leinster League title this season, leaving a lot of big sides in their wake.
Enniscorthy’s Towns Cup triumph last season was hugely impressive with victories over Skerries and Newbridge on their way to the final and a composed and clinical display in the decider against an emerging Tullow side.
Many thought they would kick on this season but the form just was not there before Christmas and key defeats at against Dundalk and Coolmine ruled them out of the title hunt early. They have since launched a revival and should secure a top four place in the coming weeks.
The timing of that revival coincides with the cup season and is very similar to last year’s spring spark. They still have the core of the cup winning squad in place with a team that hails from a very tight radius around the town.
Additional talent to last year’s final starters includes the 19-year-old David Dunne on the wing who turned heads in the semi-final against Clogher Valley with a quick tap penalty, blistering pace and evasive running to make the second try in that brilliant eight-point win.
Players like Sean Wall at lock and Paddy Watters at loosehead along with Timmy Morrissey in the back row and Peter Kerins at number 10 will give them a different look from what we saw in Edenderry last April in the Towns Cup decider, but for the large part the core is still there.
They were proud of the work of their forwards in the win over Clogher Valley. Considering the tough conditions and a hugely respected home, they held their own very well and withstood the huge loss of Tony Ryan to an ankle injury. He is expected to miss the final which is a key blow.
The experience of player-coach Declan O’Brien, all round ability of tighthead prop Ciaran Murphy and the play of the talented openside Mitchel Dalton will all be in the spotlight in Ryan’s absence.
The back-line might provide something of an edge with a very sharp back-three – Richard Dunne at full-back and two-try semi final hero Ivan Jacobs on the wing. Ivan Poole and Ross Barbour can also do damage in the centre.
Once again, Tullamore will not mind the talk being all about the opposition back-line, they will hope that their fine play in the three-quarters all season is played down and that there is little mention of the brilliant second half score from Richie Hughes in Kanturk after centre David Clavin carved open the home defence.
Aaron Deverell at out-half was superb in that game, he kept a tight control on the contest and his kicks for goal in the first half were hammer blows after the tries. Kicking points will be vital and Poole’s five from five in Clogher suggests he is on song coming in too.
There is no question that Tullamore have the firepower out wide if needed, Brian Geraghty in particular is a big threat from full-back but it is up front that will be key once more.
Their power was too much in the end for a spirited Kanturk and Adrian Hanley at number 8 was immense. They will hope for more of the same from the in-form Rob Connor and will look to their front row for an edge and a platform. If they get the set piece dominance, Enniscorthy will struggle.
So that is it. The potential for a good contest is clear, with Tullamore getting our tip on the basis that they have won every crunch game this season.
Sure, Wanderers beat them and Cill Dara caught them cold too but neither of those games were pivotal to their season. When it mattered in Cork last time out, Tullamore were ruthless.
Yet the reason why we expect a brilliant final and why we might just be proven wrong is Enniscorthy have the know-how from last year’s Towns Cup decider.
They will arrive in Kildare town on Saturday firmly believing that the Offaly men can be overturned. If they do manage to upset the odds, this will be their finest hour to date.
Prediction: Tullamore by 3
Last Three Meetings
November 12, 2011: Tullamore 18 Enniscorthy 10
February 26, 2012: Enniscorthy 14 Tullamore 14
November 3, 2012: Tullamore 32 Enniscorthy 20
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