There is a unique feel to this year’s Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup final. Not only are Bangor and Dundalk first-time finalists, this will also be the first time that the decider has been held at an Ulster venue.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP FINAL: Saturday, January 31
BANGOR v DUNDALK, Chambers Park, Portadown RFC, 2.30pm
Current League & Cup Form – Bangor: WWLWL; Dundalk: DWWWW
Current League Positions – Bangor: 3rd, Ulster Qualifying League Section 1; Dundalk: 1st, Leinster League Division 1A
Routes To The Final:
First round: Won 21-15 away to Clonmel
Quarter-final: Won 14-12 at home to Enniscorthy
Semi-final: Won 9-6 at home to Clogher Valley
First round: Won 51-8 at home to Cobh Pirates
Quarter-final: Won 24-10 away to Newcastle West
Semi-final: Drew 25-25 away to CIYMS; Semi-final replay: Won 27-25 at home to CIYMS
All-Ireland Junior Cup Records:
2014/15: Reached the final (W21-15 away to Clonmel; W14-12 at home to Enniscorthy; W9-6 at home to Clogher Valley)
2010/11: Lost in first round (L49-24 at home to Crosshaven)
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals (W23-3 at home to Ballina; L29-15 away to Coleraine)
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals (W12-10 away to Donaghadee; L15-12 away to Portadown)
2014/15: Reached the final (W51-8 at home to Cobh Pirates; W24-10 away to Newcastle West; D25-25 away to CIYMS; W27-25 at home to CIYMS)
Preview: No matter what the result on Saturday, Jason Morgan’s Bangor side have already made a significant mark by reaching the final in the club’s very first All-Ireland Junior Cup campaign.
It is a remarkable achievement given the calibre of teams they have beaten along the way – Munster League leaders Clonmel, last year’s All-Ireland Junior Cup winners Enniscorthy and Ulster League champions Clogher Valley.
Bangor seem to have a canny knack of coming through tight games, with goal-kicking winger Mark Widdowson (pictured below) emerging as a real match winner. He kicked them to a 9-6 semi-final win over Clogher Valley, just three weeks on from another crucial nine-point contribution against Enniscorthy.
More of the same will be required if they are to get the better of Dundalk. The platform for Widdowson’s crucial scores has come from the Bangor pack where Phil Whyte, Andrew Jackson and Phil Whyte have shone in a settled front row and captain Jamie Clegg spearheads a combative back row.
Unfortunately, a back injury has sidelined New Zealander Morgan, an influential out-half when on the pitch, with Keith Rosson replacing him in the number 10 jersey. Bangor rested a number of first-choice players when losing to Armagh in the Towns Cup last week.
A victory for the Ulster club this weekend would see them become the first All-Ireland Junior Cup champions from the north since City of Derry lifted the trophy in 2010.
Their opponents, Dundalk, have a decent pedigree in this competition with two previous quarter-final appearances. The Mill Road men have only lost once so far this season and sit top of Leinster League Division 1A thanks to ten wins (nine with a bonus point).
There is a feeling that this is Dundalk’s time to shine. Ene Fa’atau’s charges, led by skipper MJ McKevitt, came through a titanic semi-final replay against CIYMS with Ultan Murphy – a young goal-kicking winger like Widdowson – landing a late match-winning penalty.
Wily Leinster Junior scrum half TC Campbell is the heartbeat of the Dundalk side, bossing play and often providing an attacking spark off quick ball. They have plenty of natural finishers outside him, including out-half Johnny Williams and full-back James Shields.
In the forwards, Fa’atau is expected to return to the back row while dependable hooker Lote Nuku has impressed throughout the season along with Zimbabwean Mike Bentley, who offers a big presence in the second row.
If Dundalk play at their free-scoring best, they should win out. Anything less and Bangor will be primed to take advantage – as they have done in previous rounds, against sides with big reputations.
A special mention for Portadown RFC as their own Chambers Park becomes the sixth venue to host the All-Ireland Junior Cup decider, following in the footsteps of the likes of Coolmine RFC and Cill Dara RFC in recent years and Dubarry Park, Templeville Road and Lansdowne Road before that.
* Admission to the game is £3. There will be hot food, drinks promos, raffles and a live band, ‘Area 51’, from 4.30pm. Portadown RFC map.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dundalk to win
Pre-Match Quotes – Jason Morgan (Bangor): “We can always perform on the big occasion as we did against Clonmel, the holders Enniscorthy and Clogher. With attention to detail and the right system in operation, I feel we should win which will be one step in taking this club to a higher level,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“We have a very enthusiastic squad with 27 players fighting for the 22 places. We are fortunate to have strength in depth.
“Our bench has plenty of experience including Mark Thompson, formerly of the Ulster Academy. Out-half Keith Rosson plays an expansive game while Mark Widdowson (ex-Bangor Academy) has great potential.”
Ene Fa’atau (Dundalk): “When we sat down at the start of the season, the league was the number one target, but there would not be anyone in the club who could put their name to this trophy, so it’s an opportunity for us to make a bit of history and we’re looking forward to it,” he told the Argus.
“We’ll go out with the best side we can and all we ask is that the players come off the pitch with no regrets and can look each other in the eye and say, ‘I did the best for you’.
“We’ve done a little bit of homework on Bangor and they have key players at 7 and 8, the 10 likes to pull the strings and their wingers are very quick. But it’s important for us to focus on our strengths. Everyone is 100% (fit), so a lot of good players are going to miss out.”
All-Ireland Junior Cup Roll Of Honour –
2010: City of Derry
2006: Rainey Old Boys