Rob Murphy from grassroots rugby website, www.Knockon.ie, previews the opening matches in the IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship, with John O’Neill’s Munster side hoping to defend the title they won last May.
2013/14 IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, April 26
ROUND 1 FIXTURES –
LEINSTER v MUNSTER, Wexford Wanderers RFC, 2.30pm
The big showdown is the traditional opening game in this competition. It has not always been the decider by any means but it is the one fixture that matters most to these two sides. There is no point in denying that.
Reigning champions Munster carry a lot of confidence into this year’s tournament, but a disrupted build-up has hampered them more than any province as two junior competitions are still ongoing and players from Clonmel, Clanwilliam and Clonakilty will be effected.
Leinster look strong again. The back-three is as good with Joni Butterworth making a big step up from Division 3 with Arklow but he is highly rated. Killian Everard was Kilkenny’s top player in the Towns Cup and has senior experience, while Niall O’Donoghue was one of Leinster’s best operators last season.
TC Campbell had a great season in Dundalk and is a try scoring threat. The back row looks good as well. Coolmine man David Gilchrist could shine, Paul Gallogly was once again one of Longford’s best players this year and Dave O’Connor showed in the Towns Cup final that he can take on big ball-carrying duties when needed.
The Munster team for this round 1 clash was named on Friday morning. The problem from the management team is the numerous cup competitions across the province still ongoing and many of the starters this weekend may not be available for the round 2 match against Ulster in Youghal.
The title holders’ selected side has some real spark. Warren Kelly from St. Senan’s was one of the stars of their Division 2 title-winning campaign this year.
Kelly will be on the right wing, the prolific Eoin O’Carroll from Tralee is on the other wing and the highly-rated Waterpark full-back Eoin Geary, who plays dual status with Boyne and is in college in Waterford IT, completes the back-three.
The Munster team are captained by experienced Castleisland hooker Mike Cronin and the front row is sharp with Hugh Carolan from Waterpark at tighthead and the very effective Pa Ryan from St. Senan’s at loosehead.
This could be the strongest side they will be able to field in the coming three weeks but if they win this, the momentum might carry them through on this title defence.
However, based on form and preparation, Leinster might finally end their poor run against Munster here. Four years is a long time to wait for the title and they want to put that right.
Match Prediction: Leinster to win by four points
LEINSTER: Niall O’Donoghue (Coolmine); Killian Everard (Kilkenny), Ben Swindlehurst (Newbridge), Richie Forbes (Malahide), Joni Butterworth (Arklow); Bill Duggan (Monkstown), TC Campbell (Dundalk) (capt); James Clifford (Monkstown), Johnny Lee (Coolmine), Dylan Quinn (Longford), Niall Smullen (Wicklow), Geoff Mullan (Coolmine), Paul Gallogly (Longford), David Gilchrist (Coolmine), Dave O’Connor (Kilkenny).
Replacements: Kevin McCarthy (Newbridge), Cathal Bannon (Portarlington), Cian Carroll (Monkstown), Barry Stewart (Longford), Damien Broughall (Cill Dara), Gavin Kennedy (Ashbourne), Chris Jebb (Clondalkin), Colm Glynn (Longford).
MUNSTER: Eoin Duffy (Waterpark); Warren Kelly (St. Senan’s), Mark Chandler (Cobh Pirates), Darren O’Keeffe (Crosshaven), Eoin O’Carroll (Tralee); Stuart Lee (Old Christians), Aaron Daly (Youghal); Pa Ryan (St. Senan’s), Mike Cronin (Castleisland) (capt), Hugh Carolan (Waterpark), Darragh Joyce (Waterpark), James Corbett (Newcastlewest), Dave McCormack (Clanwilliam), Dave O’Donoghue (Waterpark), Ian Fitzgerald (St Senan’s).
Replacements: Dave Fitzgerald (Waterpark), Mike Calnan (Skibbereen), Aidan Foley (Clonakilty), Aaron Skerritt (St. Senan’s), Eoin Geary (Cobh Pirates), Mark Healy (Kanturk), Eoin O’Dwyer (Thurles), Cian Keegan (Skibbereen).
ULSTER v CONNACHT, Larne RFC, 2.30pm
The progress made by Connacht in recent seasons at this level has helped turn the Junior Interprovincial Championship into a genuine four-way battle for honours. They have stolen an edge on Ulster, winning three of the last four meetings but that changed last year in Ballina where the men in white were commanding winners.
Saturday’s match-up is interesting, Connacht pick largely from the form sides in the province this season.
OLBC were top junior club in the province this year, Connemara won the junior clubs cup (Cawley Cup), Westport were runners-up in two cup competitions and Ballinasloe stormed to the league crown to qualify for All-Ireland Junior Cup rugby.
Ulster pick from a much broader landscape. The Bangor influence is strong, they were one of the teams of the season in their league, securing a top four spot in their first year back in the top flight yet Portadown do nor feature strongly and obviously Clogher Valley players have been stretched to the limit.
The front row includes two Academy props from Qualifying League 2 and they are strong at half-back with Scott Nelson and Niall Lawther both having good seasons.
Watch out for Gary Clotworthy in the centre who has been a key presence for a strong Ballyclare side that won Q2 last season. Both he and Jason Morton from Bangor form a very strong partnership for Alasdair McKee’s men.
Connacht are captained by Connemara man Kevin Keogh. The long-serving back row forward from the Clifden club had a strong finish to the season and captained his club to a cup title last weekend. The back-line for Connacht is strong, a fiery unit with a really sharp looking centre partnership.
They will not be found wanting up front either with the back row of young Michael Ryder, the powerful John Hayes and Keogh capable of competing with any team. Ambrose Conboy and Brian Murphy will be quietly confident that their charges can improve on last year’s disappointing campaign.
Match Prediction: Ulster to win by one point
ULSTER: Ashley Finlay (Cooke); Andrew Hodgen (CIYMS), Gary Clotworthy (Ballyclare), Jason Morgan (Bangor), Norman Carson (Academy); Niall Lawther (Ballyclare), Scott Nelson (Ballymoney) (capt); Chris Nash (Academy), Phil Whyte (Bangor), James Blair (Academy), Kenny Morton (Ophir), Gareth Fitzpatrick (Dromore), Gareth McCoy (Portadown) Jamie Clegg (Bangor), Jamie Johnston (Enniskillen).
Replacements (from): Scott Finlay (Cooke), Mark Neilly (Portadown), Rob Boyd (Ballyclare), Chris Hamilton (Donaghadee), James Carleton (Portadown), Gary Weatherup (Ballyclare), Ally Lockhart (Donaghadee), Phil Cartmill (Cooke), Mike Aspley (Bangor), Alan Wilkinson (Enniskillen).
CONNACHT: Darren Griffin (OLBC); Kevin Corcoran (Westport), Dwayne Corcoran (Westport), Conor Mulligan (OLBC), Jack Vaughan (Connemara); Shane Sweeney (Connemara), Michael O’Toole (Connemara); Jamie Dever (Westport), Daniel Barrett (Loughrea), Ger Fahy (OLBC), Willie Cullinan (OLBC), Aidan McNulty (Ballina), Michael Ryder (Westport), John Hayes (Ballinasloe), Kevin Keogh (Connemara) (capt).
Replacements (from): Andy O’Hara (Ballinasloe), Kevin Gavin (Ballinasloe), Patrick Curran (OLBC), Sean Connolly (OLBC), Aidan Loughrey (Ballinasloe), Shane Connors (OLBC), Conor Loughrey (Ballinasloe), Conal Gormley (Ballinasloe), Kieran Rouse (Ballina).
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