Rob Murphy from grassroots rugby website, www.Knockon.ie, gives his assessment of Sunday’s much-anticipated Munster Junior Challenge Cup final between Tipperary rivals Clonmel and Clanwilliam.
MUNSTER JUNIOR CHALLENGE CUP FINAL: Sunday, May 11
CLONMEL v CLANWILLIAM, Musgrave Park, 2.30pm
In terms of the build-up and the likely aftermath this is already a final for the ages. One of these two clubs are about to have a day that will rank as the best in their history (arguably the 1947 squad from Clanwilliam could dispute that) by securing Munster’s most prestigious junior cup.
It is a trophy that has largely been in the hands of senior clubs, roughly 63% of all titles have gone to the seconds sides of one of Munster’s big clubs.
Of the six junior club wins in this the third millennia, two have gone to Nenagh Ormond (2000 and 2004) who are now in the third tier of the Ulster Bank League and one went to Cashel (2011) who are also in Division 2A.
The other three winners were Clonakilty (2001) who went senior, Kilfeacle and District in 2002 and the giant-killers from Cobh Pirates in 2006 who beat Cork Constitution in that decider. Such moments do happen every so often in this competition and when they do, the ‘what’s seldom is wonderful’ phrase comes to mind.
That is what we have here. The giant-killing happened in earlier rounds and in fairness to Clonmel, they have done a fair amount of the big slaying. Highfield, Cork Con, Skbbereen and UL Bohemians is some list.
That said, Clanwilliam’s story is equally as remarkable. They are coming from a run of three seasons that included what should have been a relegation from Division 1 in 2012, what was a relegation in 2013 and a solid Division 2 campaign without being spectacular this season, finishing a good chunk short of promoted St. Senan’s and Kinsale.
So for that season to turn into a cup run that included wins over Waterford City, Kilfeacle & District, Thomond and Clonakilty is something else.
Home advantage has helped hugely but their opponents each came in as favorites and some of the performances in recent weeks have been phenomenal, including the huge win over Thomond and a thrilling display against Clonakilty last weekend.
Clanwilliam are the underdogs on Sunday but they are not to be underestimated and their county rivals are unlikely to fall into that trap. The style of rugby the Tipperary town side play is high paced and full of rapid tempo. That will cause Clonmel problems.
Denis Leamy has grabbed the bull by the horns this season in the south Tipperary town. Too many years of promise and hope ending in underachievement had started to grate on players young and old and that is all changed with a strong surge since Christmas.
Both sides relay on all aspects of their starting fifteen, Conor Cooney kicks for Clonmel from full-back and is as solid and important as second row Brian Kissane from Clanwilliam who kicked the winning penalty in the derby win over Kilfeacle.
The front row battle should be interesting, Mikey Sheehan will be the experience in there for the Clonmel men. Neither side rely on dominance of that set piece but an edge could be vital.
The back row exchanges will be incredible with David McCormack on top form at number 8 for Clanwilliam and a vital component to their success, but Neville Melbourne is ready for a battle in that regard at Clonmel along with Frankie Quinlan at openside who has had a tremendous season for the Leamy-coached side.
Where it will go from there is fascinating. No one doubts that cup finals can get bogged down in nerves and tension.
This final has a very similar feel to the Towns Cup final in Leinster this year where two sides made a big breakthrough to reach the decider and the tension took hold.
If that happens here, then so be it. The tension and the drama should be compelling anyway, but there is something about these two sides, the possible time of year for pitches and the once in a lifetime opportunity that suggest we have a good chance of a rip-roaring clash.
Match Prediction: Clonmel to win by four points
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