There are some fantastic games on the cards in the Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup this weekend. Rob Murphy from grassroots rugby website knockon.ie previews the action
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP: Saturday, November 23
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Clogher Valley v Kilfeacle & District, Cran
The Ulster Qualifying league leaders take on the 13th ranked side in the 14 team Munster Junior league. On the face of it at least this should be fairly easy to predict.
Add to that the fact that the men from Fivemiletown defeated Munster league leaders Kanturk in the first round at their home, the Cran, and you have a clear picture of where the favourites tag lies.
Kilfeacle are an enigma wrapped in a riddle so far this season. The stats seem straight forward, they are a side that are struggling on the face of it. They have won just two games in seven outings in league and All Ireland Cup, beating Old Christians on opening day and third placed Connacht side OLBC in Galway.
Yet note this, they have played six games this season and each opponent they have faced is currently in the top half of the Munster League table. No team in Munster has had a more arduous set of opening fixtures. The position of 13th in the table is a false one that will almost certainly rectify itself.
It’s hard to see them winning in Clogher Valley, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibilities either. The Cup will ease some of the tension and pressure that has built up.
Against OLBC, they were superb. Gavin Heuston stole the show at nine, and Kilfeacle scored four tries. Full Back Brian Nugent got two and number eight John O’Sullivan had a stormer. Pat Ryan is their top scorer in league action with four tries during this unforgiving campaign.
Clogher will feel they can handle the Tipperary side having withstood a strong effort from Kanturk. They left it late to beat the Cork side but patience was key in that win.
They are still reeling from a Ulster Junior Cup loss to Ballyclare but they have won five of their last six games and took their frustrations from that loss in Antrim out on Dromore last weekend, turning a 15-10 halftime lead into a 48-10 with five second half tries. They are ready for this.
Enniscorthy v Coolmine, Ross Road
The second meeting in a month at Ross Road for these two relegation threatened sides from the Leinster Junior League. In the eight team Division, leaving aside leaders Wanderers and high flying Dundalk, every side is worry about the drop.
Consistency is the key problem for the other six sides, results are varying wildly at times. Enniscorthy are bottom. In the last three games since their fine display against CIYMS in round one of this competition (they won 25-0 at home), they lost to Tullow (16-22), solidly defeated Coolmine (23-8) and were easily beaten by Newbridge (8-39).
It’s obviously that last result at Rosetown that will be most alarming to the Wexford side. They shipped six tries against a side right down there with them. Their only two wins now in league action have come away to Clondalkin and in the match up with the men from Ashbrook two weeks ago.
Coolmine’s story is a similar one, they were less than spectacular against Westport in round one, struggling for cohesion in heavy rain and beating the below par Connacht outfit 21-5 in the end with just two tries when four or five could have been a possibility on a more accurate day.
Since then they have edged Newbridge 9-6 at home, lost away to Enniscorthy before fighting back late on to secure a losing bonus point at home to Dundalk in a 27-23 defeat.
The key game in helping us predict this outcome came two weeks ago. Scrum half Evan Lett and prop Johnny Leech scored tries for ‘scorthy and Rory Farrell offered the only response. It was a vital win for the Wexford side who are surviving without the injured Ivan Poole for the past month and aided by the good goal kicking of Jack Kelly in his absence.
For Coolmine to win, they are going to have get everything working well for the entire eighty minutes, that arguably hasn’t happened all season. For Enniscorthy to win, the young and rebuilding outfit are going to have to block a poor display against Newbridge from the minds and put in a typically defiant Cup performance.
Portadown v Dundalk, Chambers Park
The tie of the round for most people. Two sides held in high esteem within provincial boundaries after strong starts to the campaign.
Portadown carry the stature of a club that has played AIL rugby. They have bounced back and forth between senior and junior ranks and fared well in round robin qualifiers. That said, they are searching for a spot in just their first All Ireland Cup semi final.
Dundalk have been a consistent force in Leinster and of course won the Towns Cup in 2011 but the trophies haven’t been piling up as regularly and in this competition they have never before made an impact.
It is the 2013/14 campaign that sees them match up so well rather than past endeavours. Dundalk are a young side with a good balance of power up front and attacking threat out wide. They can score freely or grind out results if necessary.
For the most part in Leinster they have been scoring at will. Last weekend they notched 27 points in a win at Coolmine, the round before they scored 48 points in dismissing Tullow although they were beaten 19-10 by the runaway league leaders Wanderers at the start of the month.
It was their narrow low scoring win at Donaghadee in round one that caught most of the attention however, that showed a resilience that we hadn’t seen in this competition from the Louth men in previous campaigns.
Like Dundalk, Portadown have lost just once in league action this year, they are second in the table one point back from Clogher Valley because they haven’t picked up the additional bonus points but that is not a big issue for a cup run. The winning mentality is key and was certainly a factor in their come from behind win at Monivea in round one.
This truly is a very difficult game to call, Richard Headley and Ene Fa’atau will be gunning for a semi final spot. There is something about Dundalk that says to us they can cause an upset here if they go all out for it with Isia Patelo in the centre and Thomas Campbell at scrum having enough nous to swing it.
Skibbereen v Tralee, The Showgrounds
While most sides prefer out of competition clashes in this competition for novelty and variety, there is nothing like a Cork versus Kerry clash with an All Ireland semi final place at stake to whet the appetite.
When these sides met at the start of October in round of the Munster Junior League a last minute try from Tralee’s top try scorer so far this season Eoin O’Carroll and conversion from the ever accurate Gareth Walsh snatched a late win for the Kerry men.
That result avenged a narrow loss from the previous season and the game itself epitomised the keenly felt and sporting rivalry between two well established top flight clubs from the province.
Keith Matthews has done a fine job with Tralee this season, they are still in the title race despite last weekend’s narrow loss at home to league leaders Kanturk. They fought the good fight in that contest making a stirring late comeback to almost snatch the win.
Two defeats in six probably means they won’t contend in the end but top four is a firm target and Cup progress very much on the cards. The home win over Wanderers in the last round was a huge result for the club and they’ll want to make it count by reaching the last four.
Skibbereen were in brilliant form in round one and dismissed Ballina in fine style scoring five tries in a game played at Clonakilty’s home ground after flooding at the Showgrounds. That was by far their best performance of the season so far.
The first six rounds in the league have not gone as well, their only two wins have come against Mallow and Waterpark who are both in relegation trouble. Last weekend’s loss to Old Christians was another frustrating display and not ideal preparation, for that reason Tralee are slightly favoured.
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