The semi-finals of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup take place this weekend and we have previews of both games from grassroots rugby website, Knockon.ie.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, December 14
Kick-off 2pm unless stated –
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SKIBBEREEN v CLOGHER VALLEY, the Showgrounds
Preview: There is a nice balance to this cup tie. Skibbereen come in as underdogs on paper after winning just two of five in the Munster Junior League, while Clogher Valley lead the Ulster Qualifying League having won seven from nine.
The Fivemiletown side have lost three times this year – twice in the league and once in the Ulster Junior Cup – but their 34-point per game average in league action is phenomenal stuff and they are conceding just nine points per game.
Hemi Taukiri’s Skibbereen have averaged just twelve points per game so far this season in league action which negates a solid 14-point average in a defensive context.
The Cork side’s cup form has been a marked contrast with a 36-18 win over Ballina in round one preceding a 17-10 victory over Tralee in a tricky quarter-final tie against their old foes.
David Shannon at full-back has been a constant threat for Skibbereen this season, former Dolphin and Clonakilty All-Ireland League centre Denis McCarthy brings experience and direction.
In the forwards Sean O’Neill carries well and will put them on the front foot, Ger O’Mahony in the second row has only just graduated to first team action this season and has been strong.
David Black’s Clogher Valley bring power and guile to the game also. David Sharkey and Ryan Wilson in the back row will carry a lot of ball and are capable of neat offloads in tight corners.
Philip Moore, Kyle Cobain and Rodney Bennett are strong in the front row, Bennett is a key man in the loose too.
Out wide, Clogher have finishers, Aaron Best at scrum half will be tasked with the role of making the back-line tick, but they can spark at any moment once the forwards have set a platform.
Clogher have travelled far and wide on this island in recent years, never as far as Skibbereen but trips to Cashel, Richmond and Skerries all adds to their experience. They were pipped in last year’s semi-final and they will not want that to happen again.
Skibbereen have a great cup pedigree having reached the 2012 Munster Junior Cup final, losing narrowly to Cork Con and missing out at the semi-final stage last year. There will be a huge crowd in the Showgrounds on Saturday and it all adds up to a cracking contest with the visitors getting a hesitant nod.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clogher Valley to win by 1-5 points
ENNISCORTHY v PORTADOWN, Ross Road
Preview: The locals who descend on Ross Road this Saturday will be arriving in confident mood after what they have seen at the venue this season. Away from home Enniscorthy struggle but at home, they are much much better at the moment.
The supporters who make the long trip down from Ulster will be confident also. Portadown have lost just once in nine league outings and while they have failed to garner a large number of bonus points, the steel in defence has made them formidable opponents for every side they have met so far.
Enniscorthy have lost a couple of times at their Wexford home this season – to second-placed Dundalk and leaders Wanderers – but in both games they were competitive and in every other game at their home venue, they have delivered the win.
Declan O’Brien has had a tough rebuilding task on his hands, losing the guts of half a team during the summer.
The panel broke up – work and emigration the main factors – after a successful few seasons, winning the 2012 Towns Cup, finishing top four in the league, qualifying for this competition for the first time and reaching the final at their first attempt.
This season has been tough so far and they have taken some big defeats on the road. However, the All-Ireland Junior Cup has provided home ties in the opening two rounds and they have made the most of that fortune, accounting for CIYMS and Coolmine in fairly comprehensive fashion.
The injury and availability issues of recent weeks are not as pronounced heading into this weekend. Ivan Poole missed the guts of two months after picking up a knock in the October loss to Wanderers but made his return last weekend when a depleted side were easily beaten by Dundalk.
His return will sharpen a back-line which has pace and the finishing prowess of David O’Dwyer on the wing. Up front, Sean Wall is a key man and playing well, Jim White returns in the back row and will not shirk the challenge, while the experience of likes John Howe and Ciaran Murphy up front will be key.
Richard Hedley’s Portadown will have taken great confidence from their progress so far in this event. They overturned a big deficit at the Castle Grounds in County Galway to beat a new-look and sparky Monivea side and then followed that up with a huge effort in their narrow home win over Dundalk in the last-eight.
The forwards remain a key strength to everything the Blues do. James Carlton has emerged as a real asset at number 8 this year in an experienced back row of Dermot O’Kane and Gary Hall. The half-back pairing of David Whitten and Chris McVitty will also be key.
On a neutral field, Portadown would get the nod for obvious reasons as they bring a stronger winning record and more pedigree of competing in All-Ireland ties having played All-Ireland League rugby and Round Robin competitions regularly in the recent past.
The home advantage changes that view slightly and after the way they overcame tough ties in the previous round at Ross Road, it is hard to go against ‘Scorthy – even allowing for their patchy league form.
It will be an upset if they win, but we’re tipping last year’s runners-up from Wexford to make it to another final.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Enniscorthy to win by 1-5 points
Related Links –
www.knockon.ie – The grassroots rugby website