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Ulster Bank Junior Cup: First Round Previews

Ulster Bank Junior Cup: First Round Previews

The October Bank Holiday weekend launches another fiercely-contested Ulster Bank Junior Cup campaign, with Ulster high flyers Ballyclare travelling to defending champions Ashbourne in tomorrow’s most anticipated first round fixture.


Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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The current table toppers in the Leinster and Ulster Junior Leagues meet in the tie of the first round. Ashbourne are back on the cup trail nine months to the day of their memorable final victory over then champions Enniscorthy at Donnybrook.

The east Meath club are coached by Peter O’Donnell and Scott Broughton and captained by scrum half Gavin Kennedy, their goal-kicking hero from last January’s decider. Kennedy has already tallied up 58 points in the Leinster Junior League this season, with centre/out-half Adam Martin matching his three-try haul, and lock Joey Spzara, a Leinster Under-18 Clubs XV player last year, one of the youngsters who have impressed of late.

Ballyclare, who reached the last-eight in 2016/17, are five from five in Division 1 of the Ulster Rugby Championship. Mike Orchin-McKeever’s side are particularly strong up front with captain Grant Bartley and talismanic number 8 Dave Clarke joined this season by former Ulster and Emerging Ireland prop Ricky Lutton. Robbie Reid and Joel McBride also dovetail well as a centre pairing.


Ballina and Portadown meet in the opening round for the second successive year. The Moy men fielded an under-strength team when they went down 22-11 to the Ports at Chambers Park twelve months ago, with centre Jonny Holden, winger Aaron Morton and number 8 Gary Hall scoring the victors’ tries.

Home advantage and a shot at revenge should inspire Ballina, whose Connacht Junior League Division 1A title defence has started perfectly with three bonus point wins. Centre Calum Quinn is averaging a try per game so far, with full-back Chris O’Neill also touching down three times.

With three successive victories, Portadown appear to be turning a difficult start to the season around. Their back row of James Wright, Hall and Stuart Douglas has hit form, with centre and captain Craig Woods’ recent return from injury also a big boost.


With Pat O’Connor now heading up the Clonmel coaching staff, they will hope for better fortunes in the All-Ireland Junior Cup after heavy defeats to Clogher Valley (31-0) and De La Salle Palmerston (45-5) in the last two years. 

The Tipperary men remain the kingpins of Munster Junior rugby, with three league titles in-a-row behind them. Last week’s 42-13 defeat of Kanturk keeps them on course for a fourth, but a cup run at national level could prove key in steeling them for a possible springtime shot at an Ulster Bank League place.

Clonmel will have fond memories of their 12-3 quarter-final win over Westport from nine years ago – current assistant coach Neville Melbourne, who continues to line out in the second row, was on the pitch that day as was Westport’s then South African player-coach Marius Bosman. The Bulls have fallen at the first hurdle in four of the last five seasons, but October has produced back-to-back league wins and Eddie Walsh’s men will not fear the Munster champions.


Beaten semi-finalists last December, De La Salle Palmerston are back for another crack at the All-Ireland Junior Cup. ‘Salmo’s unblemished start to the Leinster Junior League was ruined by a 20-10 loss at Gorey last week, but Kirwan Park continues to be a fortress for them.

Director of rugby Phil Werahiko, whose side are second in Division 1A, believes they have ‘made a step forward’ from last year, with their homegrown talent bolstered by influential southern Hemisphere recruits, Ben Stephens, James Wepener, Robin Tapuvae and Sam Blair.

The Connemara Blacks make the trip to Kilternan as the Connacht Junior League’s second-placed club, having strung together three impressive wins. They boast the reigning Connacht Junior Player of the Year in pacy full-back John O’Brien, and a canny coaching duo in club stalwarts Henry O’Toole and Bernard Keaney. 


Bandon have conceded the game to Enniskillen due to front row issues.


This is Instonians’ third successive year in the All-Ireland Junior Cup and they have had contrasting fortunes so far, finishing as runners-up two seasons ago and suffering a first round exit against Bandon twelve months ago. They are now led by player-coaches Roger Wilson and John Andress, along with director of rugby Wilbur Leacock.

Former Ulster and Ireland number 8 Wilson has returned to full training following a broken thumb, and Inst have a fully fit squad to choose from apart from four long-term injuries. Gorey will travel with plenty of confidence after back-to-back league victories over Monkstown and DLSP.

The Co. Wexford outfit overcame ‘Salmo on a 20-10 scoreline, with in-form flanker Killian Breen – their man-of-the-match against Monkstown – scoring the match-winning try. Out-half Stephen Duke and centre James Nolan, who captained the Ireland Under-18 Clubs team in 2013, are among their leading backs.


Home advantage in the first round has been a poisoned chalice for Monivea. They have lost Junior Cup openers to Clogher Valley, St. Senan’s, Coolmine and Portadown at the Castle Grounds in the last four years, leaving 2012’s 25-16 success in Crosshaven as their most recent victory in the competition.

Although lying sixth currently in the Connacht Junior League, Mona are hoping to recapture the form which saw them lift the Connacht Junior Cup last season for the first time since 2013. Matthew Mannion and Fergus Killarney have impressed recently with try doubles against Westport and Buccaneers respectively.

Kilfeacle & District are aiming for a repeat of their successful trip to Galway four years ago when they defeated OLBC 30-14 at the Sportsground. They are back in the Junior Cup this season and boosted by a four-match unbeaten league run, with an average of five tries per game so far. Jamie Heuston and Cormac Ryan have scored three tries apiece, with the former also kicking brilliantly off the tee.


Enniscorthy’s All-Ireland Junior Cup pedigree is well known, with title wins in 2014 and 2016 and runners-up finishes in both 2013 and 2017. After a slow start to the current league season, three victories on the trot has them back at the business end of the table.

Declan O’Brien and Kieran Hurrell’s well-drilled team swept Monkstown aside last week, triumphing 29-0 with former Ireland Under-18 Clubs lock Joe Carley touching down twice. In contrast, Newcastle West fell to a disappointing 39-6 defeat to Waterpark in Munster Junior League Division 1.

The west Limerick club are much better than that scoreline suggests. They have beaten Abbeyfeale and St. Senan’s in recent rounds, aided by the scoring exploits of ever-reliable Munster Junior player Sean Herlihy, who has claimed three tries and kicked 26 points in the league to date.