There is something old and new to savour in the Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup semi-finals, with Newcastle West and champions Clogher Valley meeting again, and Enniskillen and Monkstown both bidding to create club history.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP:
SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, January 7
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
NEWCASTLE WEST v CLOGHER VALLEY, Cullinagh, 2pm
This is a repeat of one of last season’s semi-finals, Newcastle West having home advantage this time as they look to banish memories of a heavy defeat. Clogher Valley won 47-9 on the way to becoming first-time champions the following month.
Newcastle West have knocked out Connacht champions Connemara (15-11) and last year’s beaten Energia Junior Cup finalists Ballyclare (26-24), and have a quality operator at out-half in Shane Airey, who has plenty of All-Ireland League experience.
Looking forward to having home advantage this time around, Newcastle West captain Gerald Griffin said: “We let ourselves down last year at this stage of the cup. We want all sporting people in west Limerick to be our 16th man on Saturday.
“We have players from all around west Limerick, so come along and support us and see junior rugby at its highest level.”
It should be a fascinating duel at number 10 as Clogher Valley’s David Maxwell has impressed in their two games to date, with his 30-point haul including three tries. Stephen Bothwell’s side lead Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 with 11 wins out of 12.
“Newcastle West will obviously know a bit more about us and what to expect, and they are well up for getting one back on us,” Bothwell told the Impartial Reporter.
“They will be cock-a-hoop about getting their semi-final at home. After losing to Ballyclare in the league, it’s a good way now to just challenge ourselves and get back on the horse for a massive game this weekend.”
ENNISKILLEN v MONKSTOWN, Mullaghmeen
Enniskillen and Monkstown, both first-time semi-finalists, will meet at Mullaghmeen, with Stephen Welsh’s Skins returning home after winning on the road against both Bective Rangers (52-5) and Kilfeacle & District (25-20).
Four tries from hooker Niall Keenan have helped Enniskillen reach the semi-final stage, while Monkstown, who are currently second in Leinster Junior League Division 1A, have also been racking up some big scores.
Dave Mahon’s men put 31 points on Castlebar and then posted a 61-7 quarter-final win at home to Thomond. Fraser Wright touched down twice in the first round and tallied up 21 points against the Soda Cakes, including his third try of the competition.
Wright moves to the wing this weekend to accommodate the inclusion of Charlie McMickan at out-half. Tristan Brady captains the side from scrum half, with the front row of Cian Carroll, Kieran Stokes and Adam Howard a powerful unit.
Second row James Carleton is fit to captain the Enniskillen team after recovering from a shoulder injury picked up during last week’s defeat to Dromore. Jack Rutledge has come through the return-to-play protocols to start at blindside flanker.
Enniskillen head coach Welsh is anticipating a big home support to turn out, telling the Impartial Reporter: “Leading up to the last one (the postponed match), it was good being around town and people who wouldn’t normally talk about rugby were asking about it.
“So, it’s good that people around the town have recognised the achievements of the boys and that it is a big game and not just your average game.
“Hopefully we will have a big crowd up there to get behind the boys and we can go on and get a result.”