Defending champions Ashbourne will be joined by three first-time semi-finalists in the last-four of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup next month, with Connacht’s Ballina and Munster duo Newcastle West and Kilfeacle & District all making it through.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP QUARTER-FINALS: Saturday, November 11
Enniskillen 13 Newcastle West 28, Ardgart Road
Ashbourne 22 Clonmel 13, Milltown House
Ballina 6 Instonians 3, Heffernan Park
Connemara 10 Kilfeacle & District 12, Monastery Field
Ballina enjoyed one of the best days in the club’s history when defeating highly-rated Instonians 6-3 to qualify for the Junior Cup semi-finals on December 9. Out-half Kieran Lindsay showed nerves of steel to convert a 76th minute penalty which split the sides in a tense finale.
The 80 minutes on the banks of the river Moy were far more exciting that the final scoreline suggests. It was Instonians who began the brighter, earning a kickable penalty in the eighth minute which their number 10 James Campbell turned into three points.
Inst player-coaches John Andress and Roger Wilson both started up front for the Belfast side, but they failed to add to that initial score as Campbell watched two long range penalty attempts drift wide. Ballina’s Darragh Whyte was also wide with a kick from halfway.
Inst, the 2016 runners-up, had a gilt-edged chance to break the try deadlock in the 24th minute, but after a ricocheting loose ball had been hacked ahead by Gareth Burns-Delaney, pressure from covering scrum half Mickey Murphy forced a knock-on desperately close to the try-line.
Ballina worked their way into scoring range as half-time approached, with Chris O’Neill and David Brunker getting on the ball in attacking situations. Captain Fergal Tully and the forwards ground out a penalty which winger Whyte lofted over to draw a huge roar from the partisan home crowd.
It was nip and tuck again on the resumption with both sides creating opportunities. Ballina were first to threaten, lock Marc Feeley leading the charge but poor execution in the wet conditions let the hosts down and Inst survived.
The Ulstermen, with former Ulster and Ireland back rower Wilson to the fore, worked their way downfield and mauled their way to within inches of the Ballina whitewash. It took some heroic defending from the Connacht Junior League leaders to keep their line intact, with their commitment to the cause summed up by a crunching tackle from number 8 Daniel Molloy.
The Co. Mayo side turned down a 40-metre shot at the posts from the left, but a knock-on in the next phase brought a promising attack to a close. Still, they were now winning the battle for territory and making the hard yards.
In their eagerness to stop Ballina in their tracks, Instonians were caught offside and Lindsay coolly slotted over the penalty and put the hosts ahead for the first time. Inst made it back into the Ballina half in the dying minutes, searching for a levelling kick or even better. However, David Newman’s men refused to yield in defence and a final knock-on confirmed Ballina’s historic place in the semi-finals.
The semi-final draw saw Ballina pulled out with Ashbourne, the title holders, who will have home advantage when the clubs meet on December 9. Man-of-the-match Conor Hurley scored tries after 32 and 52 minutes to help Ashbourne get the better of Clonmel on a 22-13 scoreline at Milltown House.
Diarmuid Devaney’s try came too late for the Tipperary men who trailed 14-6 at half-time and had two players sin-binned at a crucial stage. Ashbourne took full advantage with Hurley running in his second try and captain Gavin Kennedy topping up his tally to 12 points – a try, two conversions and a penalty.
The other semi-final will be an-all Munster affair between Kilfeacle & District and Newcastle West at Morrissey Park. The west Limerick outfit were arguably the most impressive performers at the quarter-final stage, emerging as 28-13 winners in Enniskillen.
With Enniskillen and Instonians both losing, it means Ulster will have no representation in the Junior Cup semi-finals for the first time in nine seasons. Newcastle West galloped into a 15-3 half-time lead thanks to tries from Dave Foley and Stephen Kelly, the speedy former Shannon winger.
Although Enniskillen improved with two tries in the second period, a third try for the visitors from James Kelly, plus Sean Herilhy’s well-struck 13-point kicking haul, kept them out of trouble and in complete control of the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, James Hogan scored the match-winning try for Kilfeacle & District as they prevailed 12-10 over hosts Connemara in a tough encounter in Clifden. His unconverted effort, coupled with a first half penalty try, proved enough for the west Tipperary side in a game that could have gone either way.
Kilfeacle & District and Newcastle West are currently fourth and seventh respectively in Division 1 of the Munster Junior League, with Kilfeacle unbeaten thanks to three wins and two draws so far. The sides drew 13-all in the final round of the league last March, with Herlihy doing all of West’s scoring and Kevin Kinane (try) and Gavin Heuston (conversion and two penalties) getting on the scoresheet for Kilfeacle.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, December 9
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Ashbourne v Ballina, Milltown House
Kilfeacle & District v Newcastle West, Morrissey Park
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