The 2016/17 IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship kicks off on Saturday with Leinster hosting Connacht at Newbridge RFC and Munster beginning their title defence with a trip to Randalstown to play their Ulster counterparts.
2016/17 IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, April 29
ROUND 1 –
LEINSTER v CONNACHT, Newbridge RFC, 2.30pm
The Leinster Junior squad are chasing their first Interprovincial title since 2014 but are quietly confident that this can be addressed this season. Captain John Shine and Marcus McAllister are included from recent Ulster Bank League promotion winners Malahide.
Leinster Junior head coach David McMahon said: “With the way the fixtures have fallen with the Towns Cup and the Round Robin, for the first time in a long time we have the pick of all the players so it’s probably the strongest panel that we’ve had in my time involved.
“Leinster Junior rugby, as a whole, is in a strong position. It’s a very healthy and vibrant league. It’s exciting to be a part of this junior team and the league.”
Mahon and fellow coaches Niall Moran, Maurice Logue and Mark Whitehead have overseen training sessions at Clondalking RFC on Tuesday and Thursday nights in the build-up to the Championship, with over 30 players showing up to training each night.
“Guys have come through and have gone on and played at a much higher level on the back of the Juniors. It’s been a window for guys to use it as an opportunity to wear their provincial jersey,” added Monkstown clubman Mahon.
“We had two players who played on the Ireland Club international team this year who came through the Junior Interprovincials in the last couple of years. Tony Ryan, who came through from Enniscorthy and Willie Earle, who came through from Gorey, played for the Ireland club team during the Six Nations and Ryan was obviously capped at senior level by Leinster in the PRO12.”
Meanwhile, an extended Connacht squad of 37 players from 10 junior clubs have been put through their paces at Tuam RFC over the past five weeks, with head coach Paul Flanagan and his assistant coaches Sean Duignan and Darren Blade running the rule over this year’s side.
The westerners are captained by Ballina’s Mickey Murphy from scrum half, while Monivea have the highest representation in the starting XV with eight players, including front rowers Padraig Mannion and Ger Fahy, making the cut.
LEINSTER: Liam Caddy (Kilkenny); Ivan Jacob (Enniscorthy), Killian Lett (Enniscorthy), William (Cas) O’Brien (Tullow), Marcus McAllister (Malahide); Pete Condon (Monkstown), Ian Burke (De La Salle Palmerston); Alan Wall (Ashbourne), Johnny Lee (Coolmine), Dylan Quinn (Longford), Frank Murphy (Tullow), Ronan Costelloe (De La Salle Palmerston), Mark Williams (Gorey), John Shine (Malahide) (capt), Dave O’Connor (Kilkenny).
Replacements: Eanna Killian (Wicklow), Paul McCreanor (Clondalkin), Cathal Bannon (Portarlington), Barry Stewart (Longford), Simon Deevey (Ashbourne), Eric Flynn (Monkstown), Podge Mahon (Kilkenny), Ross Doyle (Portarlington).
CONNACHT: Coleman Maher (Monivea); Peter O’Toole (Connemara), Matthew Mannion (Monivea), Mike Allen (Ballina), Enda Hogan (Monivea); Seamie Fahy (Monivea), Mickey Murphy (Ballina) (capt); Padraig Mannion (Monivea), Ger Fahy (Monivea), Adam Bourke (Westport), Vinnie Lally (Monivea), Marty Cummins (Dunmore), Stephen Joyce (Monivea), Fergal Tully (Ballina), Roy Stanley (NUIG).
Replacements: Shane Faulkner (NUIG), Eugene Conroy (Connemara), Cormac Grodan (Westport), TJ Berry (Connemara), Jack Winters (Ballinrobe), Alan Tierney (Tuam), Ryan Guilfoyle (NUIG), Ian Murphy (Tuam).
ULSTER v MUNSTER, Randalstown RFC, 2.30pm
A trip to County Antrim awaits title holders Munster as they begin this year’s Junior Interpros with a tough tie away to Ulster. A fiercely competitive Munster Junior League campaign has seen much talent shine through, reflected in the 14 clubs represented in the 24-man matchday squad.
The players have been hard at work since the conclusion of the league season, putting in the hard yards and working together as team-mates, many for the first time, from their training base at Fermoy RFC. The province’s coaching staff includes John Keehan, Eoin O’Connor, Olan Daly, Willy Shubart and Kevin O’Dwyer.
Muskerry winger Dan Horgan, the Thurles half-backs of John Lillis and Nicky Irwin and, in the pack, Mike Cronin (Castleisland) and Aidan Ware (Old Christians) all retain their places, while Brendan Childs (Galbally) starts on Saturday having been a replacement twelve months ago.
Following their Championship opener in Randalstown, Munster, who won all three matches last year, will host Leinster at Newcastlewest next Saturday in their only home game, before a final round journey to north Galway where they will face Connacht in Dunmore.
Meanwhile, Ulster Junior head coach Richard Boyd is looking forward to the opening round clash with Munster, stating that his players have prepared very well over the past six weeks. “We’ve put together a fresh, young and exciting squad who have gelled very well in the short time they have been together,” he said.
Coleraine prop Chris Nash will captain the Ulstermen for the 2016/17 tournament and he brings a wealth of Juniors experience to the role. His club-mates, South African Bokkie Carstens, Josh Christie and Michael Ferguson, will have key roles at out-half and in the engine room respectively.
Competition for places has been fierce and the Ulster Junior coaches have been able to pick a strong squad for Saturday despite the unavailability of the Omagh players who are taking on Boyne for the final place in the 2017/18 Ulster Bank League. James Catterson and Jamie Sproule head up the six-strong Omagh contingent.
ULSTER: Philip Cartmill (Cooke); Robert Baloucoune (Enniskillen), Mikey Poskitt (Coleraine), Calum Irvine (CIYMS), Mitchell McComb (Grosvenor); Bokkie Carstens (Coleraine), Allen McCluggage (Grosvenor); Chris Nash (Coleraine) (capt), Alan Whitely (CIYMS), Gary Hume (Randalstown), Josh Christie (Coleraine), Michael Ferguson (Coleraine), Brian Hughes (Coleraine), Andy McKeen (Carrickfergus), Andrew Kelly (Grosvenor).
Replacements (from): Adam McDonald (Dromore), Alan Ferguson (Enniskillen), David Greatorex (Coleraine), Toby Mannus (Cooke), Jason Gilliland (CIYMS), Matthew Cahoon (Grosvenor), Grant Bartley (Ballyclare), Martin Connolly (Randalstown), Ryan Garrett (Larne), David Scott (Instonians), Robert Smith (Ballyclare).
MUNSTER: Derry O’Connor (Abbeyfeale); Scott Hornibrook (Waterpark), Eoin O’Dwyer (Thurles), Tom O’Callaghan (Mitchelstown), Dan Horgan (Muskerry); John Lillis (Thurles), Nicky Irwin (Thurles); Robert Brockhert (St. Mary’s), Mike Cronin (Castleisland), Rory Hannon (Waterpark), Kevin Phelan (Waterpark), Brendan Childs (Galbally), David O’Donoghue (Waterpark) (capt), Aidan Ware (Old Christians), Kieran Downey (Castleisland).
Replacements (from): Tom Doyle (Kilfeacle), PJ O’Connor (Charleville), Pa Ryan (St. Senan’s), Kevin Kinnane (Kilfeacle), Brian McLoughlin (Kilfeacle), Brian Collins (St. Senan’s), Sean Herlihy (Newcastlewest), Aidan O’Dwyer (Thurles), Luke Kelly (Thurles).