With the Ulster Bank League now on a winter break, the Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup takes centre stage domestically this weekend with the semi-finals taking place in Meath and Dublin.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, December 10
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
ASHBOURNE v CLOGHER VALLEY, Milltown House
Preview: With home advantage, the odds favour Ashbourne and the prospect of an all-Leinster final. However, Clogher Valley have the carrot of a second final appearance in four seasons as they chase the only trophy they have yet to win in junior rugby.
Clogher’s first round win in Monivea really turned their season around. The Glen Kyle and Davy Black-coached side are now on a four-match winning streak, including a brace of victories over Portadown. Their two personnel changes this week see Philip Moore come into the front row and Andy Breen returns to the wing.
The visitors’ impressive half-back pairing of Fleming Agnew and Philip Wilson will need some marshalling, but Ashbourne will stick to the approach that served them so well in the previous rounds against Westport (28-10) and Bandon (33-8).
With four tries in this season’s competition, Ashbourne number 8 Simon ‘Dippy’ Deevy has been at the heart of their hugely influential pack. Recent defeats to Leinster Junior League front-runners Malahide and Enniscorthy will have dented their confidence, but the Meath men should prevail here.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ashbourne to win
DE LA SALLE PALMERSTON v ENNISCORTHY, Kirwan Park
Preview: Sitting third and second in Leinster Junior League Division 1A respectively, De La Salle Palmerston and defending Junior Cup champions Enniscorthy will lock horns in what should be a cracking contest.
DLSP stunned league leaders Malahide last Saturday with their first defeat of the season, winning 28-16 at Estuary Road. It was an excellent team performance topped off by closing tries from winger Ian O’Connor and out-half Andrew Norton.
O’Connor and Norton also touched down last time out in the cup against Limerick’s Galbally (39-22), a game which saw second row and ‘Salmo stalwart Keith Taite cross the whitewash too. Taite has played over 200 league games for the club, including 186 in the All-Ireland League.
However, if Enniscorthy pick up where they left off in their 28-19 league win over Ashbourne last week, then only one winner looks likely. They stormed home with three late tries, including a penalty try and efforts from Ivan Jacob and lock Tomas Stamp who brilliantly chased down his own kick.
‘Scorthy are expert cup campaigners now, aiming to book their fourth final appearance in five years and ultimately lift the trophy for the third time since 2014. Although their recent form has been patchy, winning on the road has not been a problem for the Wexford outfit. They would gladly accept a repeat of October’s 25-22 victory over DLSP.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Enniscorthy to win
The two semi-final winners will advance to the final which will take place on Saturday, January 28. The Ulster Bank-sponsored competition has been a springboard to further success for several previous winners and finalists – the likes of Armagh, Tullamore, Rainey Old Boys, City of Derry, Dundalk and Bangor have all gone on to gain promotion to the Ulster Bank League.
PREVIOUS CHAMPIONS –
2016 – Enniscorthy
2015 – Dundalk
2014 – Enniscorthy
2013 – Tullamore
2012 – Tullamore
2011 – Crosshaven
2010 – City of Derry
2009 – Tullamore
2008 – Navan
2007 – Seapoint
2006 – Rainey Old Boys