The Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup returns tomorrow with an exciting batch of first round matches. Three-in-a-row champions Ashbourne launch their title defence at home to Creggs.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP FIRST ROUND: Saturday, October 26
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
The Rugby Survey for 2019 is live and will run until the end of the Rugby World Cup. This short survey is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in rugby to help shape the future of the sport and drive decision making in the IRFU. Click here to take part.
ASHBOURNE v CREGGS, Milltown
Going by their Leinster League form, Ashbourne look well placed to challenge for an unprecedented fourth successive All-Ireland Junior Cup. The Meath men are top of their domestic competition, with four of their five wins with a try-scoring bonus point.
Winger Shane Bass has chipped in with some crucial tries so far and will be a marked man on Saturday, as Creggs look to spring a surprise result. They bowed out in the first round to Clonmel last year, losing 36-24 at home.
The village club, right on the border between County Galway and Roscommon, have also started their Connacht Junior League campaign in unbeaten style with four straight victories. Their quick-witted full-back Shane Dowd is a player to watch out for.
CASTLEBAR v BALLYCLARE, Cloondeash
Castlebar are hoping to put a frustrating run of league results behind them. The Mayo men are winless after four rounds of Connacht league action, but three bonus points shows how competitive they have been against some of the province’s leading clubs.
Antrim outfit Ballyclare come calling, determined to better their two quarter-final appearances from the last three seasons. They have experience of winning out west, having defeated Connemara away (21-10) in last season’s opening round.
Mike Orchin-McKeever’s men will travel with a strong squad, which includes a bench spot for assistant coach Ricky Lutton, the former Ulster and Emerging Ireland prop. Matthew McDowell and Ryan McIlwaine direct operations from half-back.
CONNEMARA v GOREY, Monastery Field
You have to fancy Connemara to give this competition a good rattle this year, given they are the reigning Connacht Junior League and Cup champions and current leaders of Division 1A with four wins from four.
Henry O’Toole, the Connacht Junior Player of the Year, remains a talisman for the Clifden club, backed up by a typically dogged set of forwards. Gorey have a young and ambitious team and will relish this shot at the Connacht title holders.
The Wexford side are currently fourth in Leinster League Division 1A have some canny backs in Fionn O’Loughlin and Mikey Duke. Captain Stephen Gardiner, the former Ireland Under-20 international and Lansdowne All-Ireland League-winning forward, leads by example.
DROMORE v NEWCASTLE WEST, Barban Hill
A tough task for Newcastle West on the road and the outcome will be a good indicator of their progress under Ger Earls, father of Munster and Ireland star Keith. Their confidence is high after defeating Thomond 24-11 in the Munster Junior Cup.
Sean Corbett has an infectiously high work-rate in the NCW back row, while out-half Sean Herlihy is a very reliable kicker and attack creator. With five wins from six, Dromore are flying high at the top of Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1.
The Co. Down outfit have been racking up some big scores domestically. Their back-line is boosted this season by the inclusion of skilful former Malone centre Josh Pentland who brings plenty of All-Ireland League experience with him.
INSTONIANS v CROSSHAVEN, Shaw’s Bridge
Clem Boyd is back in the coaching hot seat at Instonians, ably assisted by the likes of Jason Morgan and Rupert Preston. The on-field additions of Scott McLean, Paul Pritchard and Nico Andress, brother of former Inst player-coach John, could have a huge bearing on the success of their season.
As 2016 runners-up, the Belfast club certainly have unfinished business with the All-Ireland Junior Cup. Their visitors tomorrow, Crosshaven, are the last Junior Cup winners from outside of Leinster having lifted the trophy back in 2011.
Crosshaven are back on the national stage for the first time in seven years. The seasiders have shown they are dangerous opponents away from home with bonus point wins at Waterpark (38-14) and Skibbereen (26-3) earlier this month.
KILFEACLE & DISTRICT v WICKLOW, Morrissey Park
This is shaping up to be one of the games of the round. A Willie Staunton-inspired Kilfeacle have enjoyed an unbeaten three-match start to their Munster League campaign, including a 25-17 triumph over relegated AIL club Thomond.
As beaten semi-finalists last year, Wicklow are doubly determined to go one better and follow in the footsteps of provincial rivals Ashbourne. They are coached again this season by George Naoupu, the former Connacht forward, and Billy Ngawini.
Of course, this is a repeat of the club’s first round meeting from twelve months ago. Kilfeacle endured a nightmare outing that day, suffering an eight-try 52-3 defeat as Dean Leonard and Ben Porter scored a brace each for hosts Wicklow.
KILKENNY v MONIVEA, Foulkstown
Kilkenny’s long-awaited All-Ireland Junior Cup debut brings Monivea to Foulkstown for the clubs’ first clash since 2003. They are definitely battle-hardened after playing Ashbourne and Dundalk in the last fortnight.
Club stalwart and former AIL player David O’Connor has taken over as Kilkenny’s head coach this season. They ran Ashbourne to just a single point at home recently, and currently sit fifth in Leinster League Division 1A.
Caolin Blade’s older brother Darren is Monivea’s player-coach, and although early-season results have been hard to come by, they are a very good cup team. Ireland underage international Cathal Fleming recently made his senior bow for Mona.
RICHMOND v GROSVENOR, Richmond Park
Richmond take some winning momentum into the competition after last Sunday’s hard-fought 18-15 Munster Junior Cup success against Galbally. Their ever-influential out-half Brian Mullins landed a late match-winning penalty.
The All-Ireland Junior Cup’s first round has proven a stumbling block for the Limerick club with defeats to Enniscorthy, Ballyclare, Newbridge and Academy in the last eight seasons.
Grosvenor travel down from Belfast eager to embark on a cup run, given they have one win and a draw from their first five Ulster Rugby Championship fixtures. They have a couple of potential match winners in Allen McCluggage and David Egner.