Defending champions Ashbourne are the last Leinster club standing after an eventful opening round of this season’s Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup. Munster have the biggest representation in the quarter-finals with Clonmel, Kilfeacle & District and Newcastle West all advancing.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP FIRST ROUND: Saturday, October 28
Ashbourne 23 Ballyclare 13, Milltown House
Ballina 35 Portadown 12, Heffernan Park
Clonmel 28 Westport 25, Ardgaoithe
De La Salle Palmerston 12 Connemara 21, Kirwan Park
Enniskillen (walkover win) v Bandon, Ardgart Road
Instonians 22 Gorey 16, Shaw’s Bridge
Monivea 7 Kilfeacle & District 24, Castle Grounds
Newcastle West 30 Enniscorthy 25, Cullinagh
Ballyclare gave as good as they got when attempting to dethrone Ashbourne at Milltown House, but scrum half and captain Gavin Kennedy’s 73rd-minute try put the seal on a hard-earned 23-13 win for the well-drilled Co. Meath outfit.
In a very entertaining and well-contested game, Kennedy’s early penalty from the 10-metre line – assisted by a strong breeze – was cancelled out by a 10th minute try from former Ulster and Emerging Ireland prop Ricky Lutton, who was up in support to take the scoring pass after a fine break from Bobby Smith.
Out-half Smith missed the conversion but landed a straightforward 23rd-minute penalty for a ruck offence, making it 8-3 to Ballyclare, before Ashbourne enjoyed a strong finish to a first half that really fizzed along. They worked an overlap and strong-running centre Simon ‘Dippy’ Deevy cut back inside the scramble defence, breaking a final tackle, to touch down to the right of the posts.
Kennedy added the extras and slung over a late penalty to open up a 13-8 advantage for the interval. Ashbourne then stung Ballyclare with a real sucker-punch score barely a minute into the second half, seizing a turnover and swiftly releasing Maiky Massuger to go over in the right corner.
Ballyclare’s powerful scrum helped them to recover from that setback, but Ashbourne’s hard-hitting defence prevented them from adding to their tally with neither side able to capitalise on sin-bin periods. Indeed, the gap was widened to 23-8 after the influential Deevy’s offload out of a tackle sent Kennedy over in the right corner for a five-pointer.
Replacement front rower Dean Jones boosted Ballyclare with a try from a well-worked lineout maul, but with Smith’s conversion attempt coming back off an upright and time not on their side, there was no way back for Mike Orchin-McKeever’s gallant team.
Last year’s beaten finalists Enniscorthy went down 30-25 to an inspired Newcastle West team at Cullinagh. Out-half Sean Herilhy, who has been in a rich vein of form this season, played a key role, kicking 12 points and setting up one of the hosts’ three tries.
It was a shock result as heavily-fancied ‘Scorthy have a proud record in the All-Ireland Junior Cup as two-time champions and two-time runners-up in the last five years. They also led 10-0 and 15-7 during the first half on Saturday, but second half tries from Darragh Tracey and Brian O’Sullivan, adding to an earlier Dave Foley effort from a Herlihy cross-field kick, saw the Limerick men lead 27-15 entering the final quarter.
Although the visitors closed the gap back to seven points, Munster Junior player Herlihy held his nerve to fire home the clinching penalty goal, right at the death, and claim the scalp of Declan O’Brien and Kieran Hurrell’s well-drilled outfit.
Munster’s two other cup competitors also won their first round clashes with Connacht opposition, league champions Clonmel getting the better of Westport on a tight 28-25 scoreline at Ardgaoithe, while Kilfeacle & District were full value for a 24-7 victory away to Monivea.
Luke Hogan bagged a brace of tries for Clonmel as they banished memories of first round exits in the last two years. Fellow centre Luke Noonan, the man-of-the-match, also touched down with out-half Dylan Cadogan booting the other 13 points courtesy of three penalties and two conversions.
Hogan’s try from his own chip kick and Cadogan’s three penalties gave Tipperary men a 16-15 lead at the turnaround, with Westport registering two first half tries – including an intercept effort. The sides swapped tries early in the second half, but the game’s decisive score came when assistant coach Neville Melbourne was hauled down short, Clonmel opted for a scrum from a penalty and a well-executed move off the training ground saw Hogan crash over for his second try.
Back rower Kevin Kinane, another Munster Junior representative from last season, touched down twice in Kilfeacle’s 17-point success at the expense of Monivea, who have now tasted defeat at home in the first round of each of the last five editions of the All-Ireland Junior Cup. Gavin Heuston also dotted down for the Tipperary side, with Jamie Heuston (three conversions) and Shane Luby (penalty) sharing the kicking duties.
One of the most eye-catching results of the first round was undoubtedly Connemara’s 21-12 win away to De La Salle Palmerston, who reached the semi-final stage last season and currently sit second in Leinster Junior League Division 1A.
Ageless player-coach Bernard Keaney, who captained Connemara to All-Ireland League Division 3 success in 2002, rolled back the years to help the Co. Galway club overturn a 7-5 half-time deficit. For the match-winning try, Keaney attacked off the back of a scrum near halfway, linking with Henry O’Toole jnr, son of the head coach, who broke deep into the DLSP 22. From a subsequent ruck, Keaney fed onrushing full-back Jack Vaughan to crash over from a few metres out.
Centre Shane Sweeney scored all of the Connemara Blacks’ other points on the day, notching a try, a conversion and three penalties for a handsome 16-point haul. The visitors’ efforts were all the more impressive given that head coach Henry O’Toole snr was their only other available replacement on the day.
Fellow Connacht club, Ballina, celebrated their first ever All-Ireland Junior Cup victory after seeing off the challenge of Portadown on a 35-12 scoreline at Heffernan Park. They reversed last year’s result at the same stage when they lost 22-11 up at Chambers Park.
The Moy men led 13-0 at half-time in Saturday’s rematch, with Kieran Lindsay’s 16th-minute penalty supplemented by unconverted tries from David Brunker, who streaked over in the right corner after good work from the forwards, and Calum Quinn, who scored from a pacy counter attack that started with Darragh Whyte fielding a clearance kick on halfway.
Backs Lindsay and Quinn quickly doubled their try tallies on the resumption, the latter breaking away from three defenders with winger Whyte converting to make it 25-0 after 45 minutes. Portadown captain Craig Woods converted his own try from a free-flowing 60th-minute move to get the Ulstermen off the mark.
However, two more unconverted scores from Ballina number 8 Daniel Molloy and Whyte had them well out of reach, and not even the late concession of a Jordan Taylor try could take the gloss off a fine performance from David Newman’s squad.
Meanwhile, Instonians also made home advantage count with an improved second half performance in their 22-16 defeat of Gorey at Shaw’s Bridge. Fraser Wright’s four penalties, allied to tries from wingers Michael Melville and Matt Kilpatrick, saw Inst book their place in the last-eight.
Gorey were very much in the hunt when trailing 14-7 at half-time with the advantage of a strong wind to come during the final 40 minutes. Inst had some disciplinary issues with yellow cards for former Ulster and Ireland back rower Roger Wilson and Matthew Keane, who were both making their seasonal bows for the Belfast club.
With their two-man advantage late in the first half, Gorey’s Phil Horan barged over for a try converted by Marty Swart before Wright’s third successful penalty made it a seven-point game. A tremendous 40-metre drop goal from David Shannon, early on the resumption, gave the visitors a further boost at 14-10 before player-coach Wilson and Keane returned.
Wilson’s influence and experience was evident when his quick tap and strong run drew a yellow card for a no-arms tackle, and a similar offence following a mazy run from Inst’s eager full-back Gareth Burns-Delaney saw Gorey suffer a second sin-binning.
Their 13-man opponents could not hold out as forceful mauling from Inst set up a 60th minute penalty which Wright converted for a 17-10 lead. Swart replied ten minutes later, rewarding some patient build-up play and setting up a grandstand finish at 17-13.
However, after the visitors erred with a kick out on the full, Instonians built momentum from the resulting scrum just outside the Gorey 22. Out-half Wright unlocked the defence, his clever footwork and an offload out of a tackle freeing up Kilpatrick to dive over in the corner with just five minutes remaining.
Gorey eked out another penalty for Swart to split the posts and allow his side to push for a match-winning seven-pointer. Time ran out on their late rally, though, as Wilson and company qualified for the quarter-finals where they will travel to Ballina.
The draw for the last-eight has also pitted Ashbourne against Clonmel, with the Meath men – the only former champions left in contention – having home advantage on Saturday, November 11. The picturesque setting of Monastery Field will play host to Connemara and Kilfeacle & District, while Newcastle West face a trip north to Enniskillen, who had a walkover win over Bandon.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP QUARTER-FINALS: Saturday, November 11
Ballina v Instonians, Heffernan Park
Ashbourne v Clonmel, Milltown House
Connemara v Kilfeacle & District, Monastery Field
Enniskillen v Newcastle West, Ardgart Road
PREVIOUS CHAMPIONS –
2017 – Ashbourne
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