Just like the Under-16 decider, the IRFU U-18 All-Ireland Cup final will be a Leinster-Munster affair as Skerries, the league champions from the eastern province, take on a Bandon team that is another example of the growing reputation of west Cork rugby.
IRFU UNDER-18 ALL-IRELAND CUP FINAL: Saturday, April 28
BANDON UNDER-18s v SKERRIES UNDER-18s, Mullingar RFC, 3pm
Both camps have spoken of the high regard they hold the opposition in, given their performances and results so far this season, and it should be an Under-18 final to savour at Mullingar’s Shay Murtagh Park given the talent and skills that both sides possess.
Skerries were 22-15 semi-final winners over Ulster champions Rainey Old Boys a fortnight ago, their big pack impressing and a penalty try for a high tackle clinching the result. Skerries Youths coordinator Billy Mulcahy says the U-18s will face a ‘huge challenge’ from Bandon tomorrow.
“The players are delighted to see the reintroduction of the All-Ireland Cups at Under-16 and Under-18 levels this year and to get the opportunity to play for the U-18 title this weekend,” he said. “Bandon are quality opposition, their club seems to be on a crest of a wave at the moment with their seniors challenging for promotion to the Ulster Bank League.
“There has been notable underage success for Skerries Youth teams in the past, with Skerries winning many Leinster Youth league titles at various ages from U-15s to U-18s over the last few years. Skerries won an All-Ireland U-16 title in 2008 and an All-Ireland U-17 title in 2014, with Ciaran Frawley, who made his debut for Leinster in February, part of that 2014 team.
“Many of the players from these teams are now playing senior rugby for Skerries in Division 2B of the Ulster Bank League. This year’s Under-18s have been a fusion of last year’s Under-17s plus five players who played U-18s last season and four players from Balbriggan who transferred to Skerries this year.
“The team grew and developed well in the Leinster Premier League with their only defeat in the group stages being to a strong Wicklow side. The team managed to reverse this result to beat Wicklow in an exciting league final (27-19) three weeks ago, and then followed up with the All-Ireland semi-final win over Rainey.”
Picking out some of the Skerries U-18s’ leading lights during the campaign, Mulcahy added: “The team has representative players this year in scrum half Shane Murphy (Leinster and Ireland Under-18s), centre Thomas McBrien (Leinster U-18s) and number 8 Cian Darling who featured on the Leinster Youths squad last year.
“These players have been great leaders for the team, but the strength of the team has been in the collective and their approach to the challenges that have been put up to them. An example of this is the willingness of players to inter-change positions to suit the needs of the team, and all of the players in the squad have contributed hugely in this regard.”
Meanwhile, Bandon U-18s will be facing Leinster opposition for the first time, with team manager Bob Brady admitting that they are ‘going into unknown territory in many ways’. “We’re well aware of the high standards in Leinster rugby and the fact that they beat Rainey in the semi-final means they are a side to be feared,” he said.
“Our squad is pretty much the same as it has been for the past four to five years. In that time, we reached the South Munster Development U-16 Cup final in 2014/15, the South Munster Cup and Pan Munster U-16 finals in 2015/16, and the South Munster U-18 Cup final in 2016/17 and lost all four in very tight contests. So, it was a huge relief to finally get our hands on some silverware by beating Skibbereen 15-13 in the Pan Munster final (this season).
“This year has seen players like Ben Donegan and Ciaran Roberts back playing regularly, after both having an injury disrupted 2016/17, and then you have Joe Crowley who has established himself at full-back in only his second season playing the game.
“Before Christmas we topped our Conference with five wins and a draw before progressing onto the post-Christmas group stage, where we won five out of five. This included two massive away wins, firstly in our opening game against Midleton back in January, and then a month later against Young Munster where we won with a last-minute try.
“While the side has some outstanding individuals, the success of the team has been built on team work and togetherness. We pride ourselves on our defence and work around the set piece, and will look to those pillars in our game to get us over the line on Saturday afternoon.”
Commenting on about the ongoing strides made by the club’s underage teams, Brady added: “Historically, Bandon has produced some fine sides at underage level, but never with the consistency of recent seasons. This season, two separate U-16 teams competed, with the ‘A’ side winning the Pan Munster Plate and the ‘B’ side winning the Pan Munster Bowl. Both the U-13s and U-14s are in South Munster League finals this Sunday. Five years ago, the club were crowned All Ireland U-19 champions, so this year’s U-18s will be hoping to emulate the team of 2013 tomorrow.”