Another hotly-anticipated Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup campaign begins with defending champions Clogher Valley hosting Creggs in one of the eight first round ties.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP – ROUND 1:
Saturday, October 29
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
WESTPORT v THOMOND, Carrowholly, 1pm
Westport and Thomond have the honour of kicking off the Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup for 2022/23. This is Thomond’s second attempt at reaching the quarter-final stage after a losing debut, at home to Connemara, twelve months ago.
Thomond have had one win out of three so far in the Munster Junior League, with Jordan O’Donnell and Ryain Ahern scoring two tries each. They were idle last weekend with a waterlogged pitch postponing their Munster Junior Challenge Cup clash with Clonakilty.
Home advantage could be crucial as Eddie Walsh’s Westport side chase an elusive last-eight place. Having already qualified for the Cawley Cup final, they can count on captain Chris Ryan, Kevin Corcoran and scrum half Sam Walsh as key players.
BANDON v COOKE, Old Chapel, 2pm
Bandon are sure to be backed by a big home crowd as this game coincides with the club’s 140th anniversary celebrations. Going so close to Munster Junior League glory last season has certainly whetted the appetites at Old Chapel.
Eamon Guinevan’s men come into the All-Ireland competition on the back of a 31-14 Munster Junior Challenge Cup victory over Crosshaven. Jack Crowley’s first cousin, Matthew, scored two tries, and his older brother Jerry is also part of the team.
Coached by Phil Cartmill, visitors Cooke are back in the All-Ireland Junior Cup for the first time in 10 years. They are currently third in Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1, with Ryan Flavelle, Kyle Mitchell and Ian Moxen among their leading lights.
BALLYCLARE v ASHBOURNE, the Cloughan
Ballyclare fell at the final hurdle last season, losing their grip on an 11-3 lead in January’s Energia Junior Cup decider against Clogher Valley. Mike Orchin-McKeever’s well-drilled side are back for more, led again by centre Joel McBride.
They are Clogher’s closest rivals in the Ulster Championship Division 1, posting seven wins out of eight. A lot of the foundations remain from last year with the likes of Matthew Coulter, Jack Black and Grant Bartley in the tight five.
Ashbourne have fond memories of beating Ballyclare 23-13 on the way to lifting the Junior Cup in 2017/18. Results have been hard to come by in Leinster League Division 1A, with Ashbourne, now coached by Eoin O’Sullivan, registering one win in five games.
CASTLEBAR v MONKSTOWN, Cloondeash
Neither of these clubs have been able to make a mark on past All-Ireland Junior Cups. Castlebar have suffered three previous first round exits, but a piece of history is there for the taking if young players like Aodhan O’Donoghue and James Balaski can impress.
Monkstown’s only previous Junior Cup win saw them beat Muskerry back in 2015. There are some familiar faces and players with experience of higher levels in their team, which is bookended by Danny O’Riordan and Stephen McVeigh.
Since losing their first match to Bective Rangers, Monkstown have strung together four wins to sit top of the Leinster League. Their scrum half Tristan Brady and back rower Ruadhan McDonnell started all three of Leinster’s Junior Interprovincial games last season.
CLOGHER VALLEY v CREGGS, the Cran
Clogher Valley’s unblemished record at the top of Ulster Championship Division 1 suggests they are well placed for a shot at retaining the prized All-Ireland silverware. They have put together eight wins out of eight, all with bonus points.
Stephen Bothwell’s charges boast a settled squad, led by classy play-maker Paul Armstrong, and face a Creggs side champing at the bit to cause an upset after first round defeats in the last three seasons.
Creggs have only got two Connacht Junior League games under their belt, but they are already sitting at the summit after beating Tuam (26-19) and Connemara (42-22). Centre Eoghan Coyle has caught the eye with three tries so far.
NEWCASTLE WEST v CONNEMARA, Cullinagh
Newcastle West came into the new season with a target on their back after their historic Munster Junior League and Cup double last term. They have started the league with three successive wins, while also gracing the Munster Senior Cup.
Ger Earls’ men, who have a very reliable goal-kicker in Shane Airey, took plenty of learnings out of their cup defeat to Cashel. Like the west Limerick side, reigning Connacht champions Connemara were involved in last season’s All-Ireland qualifiers.
Connemara’s never-say-die attitude was summed up by their recent league triumph over Castlebar which saw them come from 18 points down to win 34-30. Henry O’Toole’s charges have also qualified for December’s Cawley Cup final.
SEAPOINT v KILFEACLE & DISTRICT, Kilbogget Park
Seapoint were knocked out by Enniskillen at this stage twelve months ago, a thrilling one-point win at Ashbourne being the highlight of their early rounds in the Leinster League this term. They are led by Leinster Junior back rower Zac Jungmann.
There are five changes to the side that lost to Boyne last week, including starts in the back-line for Jacob Cook, Gareth Hughes and scrum half Darren Burke. This competition has a special place in Kilfeacle hearts after their 2020 title success.
Hard-carrying back rower Kevin Kinane, who captained Munster to Junior Interprovincial glory last season, remains a talismanic figure for the Tipperary club. Youngster Killian Noonan has been getting amongst the tries from the back-three, bagging a late match winner at Waterpark.
BECTIVE RANGERS v ENNISKILLEN, Energia Park, 4pm
Bective Rangers, the reigning Leinster League champions, make their All-Ireland Junior Cup debut. Bernard Jackman rotates his squad with only Connie Campher, Mark Bennett and full-back Seb Berti junior retained in the starting XV.
Former Uruguay Under-20 captain Agustin Ortas packs down at number 8, with Sean McCarthy and Ciaran Buggy steering the ship from half-back. Visitors Enniskillen won at Seapoint in last year’s first round, but this looks a tough ask for Stephen Welsh’s young Skins outfit.
“We are under no illusions,” he told the Impartial Reporter. “Bective are a quality side and they got to the play-off last year where they lost to Instonians, but we will go there and enjoy the game and we want them to know who Enniskillen are at the end of it.”