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Ulster Bank Junior Cup: First Round Previews

Ulster Bank Junior Cup: First Round Previews

The cream of junior rugby talent will be on show when this season’s Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup gets underway on Saturday, with games spread across all four provinces.


Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Clonmel v De La Salle Palmerston, Ardgaoithe

Having been in the Ulster Bank League for a number of years, this is a new departure for Quenton O’Neale’s DLSP, who are currently third in Leinster League Division 1A after a comprehensive 43-14 win over Monkstown.

Clonmel will have to keep close tabs on back-three regulars Andrew Norton and Dave Beagon who both bagged braces for ‘Salmo last week. However, with four wins from four, the Co. Tipperary side are riding high at the top of Munster League Division 1A and are formidable opponents on their own patch.

Back-to-back Munster League titles show the quality that Denis Leamy’s charges possess. But they failed to make an impact in this competition in the last two years and are determined to do so this time around.

Enniscorthy v NUI Galway, Ross Road

Enniscorthy have been the class act in this competition in recent years. Since losing the 2013 final to Tullamore, they have bounced back to lift the trophy in both 2014 and 2016, winning nine of their last ten Junior Cup ties.

‘Scorthy come into this game having edged out Gorey 15-13 in league action thanks to tries from winger Ivan Jacob and number 8 Nick Doyle. NUI Galway are coached by Galwegians prop Ja Naughton with Connacht’s Craig Ronaldson looking after the backs.

However, the Dangan-based students have had a difficult start to the season, losing all five of their Connacht League Division 1A games. On current form, this is too much of a step up against the defending champions.

Gorey v Galbally, Clonattin Road

Two clubs who are new to the All-Ireland Junior Cup, with Gorey, narrow losers to ‘Scorthy last week, looking to make the most of home advantage. Nevil Copeland, a brother of Munster and Ireland’s Robin Copeland, features on the left wing for the Wexford men.

Limerick-based Galbally also enter into the unknown, having finish third in Munster League Division 1A last season. Their recent Munster Junior Challenge Cup win over Clanwilliam (22-12) suggests they will be tough to beat.

Galbally, who gained promotion from Division 3 in 2009, have since maintained their top flight status and like Gorey, boast a good crop of young players, including Michael Donovan who has run in three tries in his last two outings.

Instonians v Bandon, Shaw’s Bridge

This is Instonians’ second crack at the All-Ireland Junior Cup after falling at the final hurdle (23-7 against Instonians) last February. The Belfast club, who have Ulster’s Roger Wilson involved as assistant coach, are fourth in the Ulster Championship Division 1, digging deep to defeat Clogher Valley 16-7 last week despite a 43rd minute red card.

Young winger Ben Finlay, formerly of Wallace High School, sped clear for a superb solo try in that game, and experienced scrum half Matthew Keane marshals a back-line that needs to start finishing more of their chances.

Any slip-ups by Inst are sure to be punished by Bandon who were impressive 21-6 winners over Clonmel in the Munster Junior Challenge Cup. They are now led by highly-regarded French coach Regis Sonnes, who was previously forwards coach at Bordeaux-Bègles. Watch out for their skillful centre Kerry Desmond, a try scorer for Cork Constitution in the Ulster Bank League last season.

Monivea v Clogher Valley, Castle Grounds

This is the one that got away for Clogher Valley after reaching four semi-finals and a final in recent years. The Fivemiletown club, who are winless after six rounds of the Ulster Championship, were hugely frustrated to lose to 14-man Inst.

So Monivea can expect a fiery performance from the visitors who will give late fitness tests to prop Richard Primrose and back rower David Sharkey. Clogher beat the Galway men 21-20 in the 2011/12 Round Robin series.

The Castle Grounds have not been lucky for Monivea in this competition, with home first round defeats to Portadown, Coolmine and St. Senan’s in the last three seasons, but they have won two of their last three Connacht League Division 1A fixtures. Mona captain Stephen Joyce leads by example in the back row and Connacht star Caolin Blade’s older brother Darren is a typically quick-witted scrum half.

Portadown v Ballina, Chambers Park

Ballina have burst out of the blocks in Connacht League Division 1A, topping the table thanks to five wins (four of them with bonus points). Key to their flying start is their ‘sky high’ fitness levels and great competition for places with upwards of 40 players at training.

Coaches David Newman and JP Leonard will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on Portadown who, up until last week, were top of the Ulster Championship Division 1 standings.

The Ports, who lost in the first round to Enniscorthy two years ago, welcome back Dean Hardy and Andrew Chambers from injury this weekend, with Mark Neilly and Ryan Calvert both added to the bench by head coach Richard Hedley. Talented out-half Jack Orr is a potential match winner for the hosts.

Richmond v Ballyclare, Canal Bank

Ballyclare have won three of their last four Ulster Championship fixtures, including last Saturday’s 43-8 bonus point triumph at Ards, so they take some decent momentum with them into the All-Ireland Junior Cup.

Coached by Mike McKeever and captained by Gary Weatherup, the Co. Antrim side are relishing this opportunity to play in a national competition, and the same is very much the case for Limerick’s Richmond.

Tadhg Bennett, the ex-Shannon out-half, and Darren Gallagher have taken the reins at Richmond as player-coaches, and recent victories over Cobh Pirates (24-7) and Old Christians (20-13) show they are making good headway.

Westport v Ashbourne, Carrowholly

These sides also met in the opening round last season, Ashbourne coming away from Carrowholly with a convincing 29-9 verdict. Their cup run was halted at the quarter-final stage by eventual champions Enniscorthy.

This term the Meath men lost their first three Leinster League Division 1A matches, but lifted their spirits by overcoming Monkstown (18-5) and Dundalk (19-18) in the past fortnight. Strong-carrying number 8 Simon Deevy touched down twice in the latter game.

Westport opened their Connacht League campaign with a big win over NUIG, before enduring a disappointing run of three straight defeats. The Co. Mayo outfit are always competitive at home, though, and Eddie Walsh’s Bulls are more than capable of reversing last year’s result.