All Ireland Junior Cup – Round 1
Clonmel v Bangor, Ardgaoithe, Clonmel (Saturday 2:30)
This is exactly the kind of novel and fascinating fixture that makes this competition so compelling. Two rising forces in two very different provinces. Bangor, the former AIL club finally back at the top table and making their debut in the competition against Clonmel, back involved after a four year absences and on a high following their Munster Junior Cup triumph last season.
The rugby grounds on the Cashel Road overlooking the south Tipperary town will be a hive of activity with the kind of crowd normally reserved for the Munster A interprovincials likely to attend. Bangor will be bringing a big support too and they are staying in the town for two nights. It should be some weekend.
Bangor: Their competition debut, the club haven’t played an out of province competitive game since the end of the 2001/02 season when they were relegated from the AIL, thus starting a decade of rebuilding. They are just back in the top tier in Ulster and marked their return with a top four finish.
Clonmel: Their fourth appearance in the competition. First round exits underpinned their recent two outings but in 2006/07 they had their best campaign beating Westport in the last eight before losing to Tullamore 13-6 in Spollanstown in the semi finals.
The Munster Verdict
- from David Lombard, player coach with Clonakilty RFC
“Last season was a really good campaign for Clonmel, we played them up there fairly early on and they were superb that day, I felt they were the best team we faced all season. They finished joint second and I think they were the dominant force even before the Munster Junior Cup started, it was there competition form a long way out and beating Cork Con underlined that.
“We played them two weeks ago, they got the better of us in the end and I think they just play a pragmatic game. They kick to the corners and pin you back. They are strong up front, well established in the back row and lively in the backline but most importantly they are really well coached by Denis Leamy. They are the complete package at Junior Level.
“They play like they’ve been a top side for years, wise heads on young shoulders. It’s all about tempo and they use their big pack to get over the gain lines. The Northern teams are difficult to judge. I know from our days in the AIL that at home they would always be stronger but Bangor seem like a strong side. Clonmel have a great home ground and with the noise coming from the stand there it can be a daunting place to go.”
The Ulster Verdict
- From Alasdair McKee, Grosvenor Head Coach and Ulster Juniors Head Coach.
“First of all, Bangor started slowly with home defeats to Ballyclare and Instonians but Jason Morgan their player coach was out injured and if he returns on Saturday that will make a big difference as he has all that experience both at AIL level and with us in the Junior inter pros. They are improving and have picked up some good wins in recent weeks.
“Just making this tournament after only one year back in the top flight is the fulfillment of a big ambition for the club and a sign of real progress. If they see this as being a one off type of game, they could go down and do very very well. It will be tough, Ulster teams always have difficulty away in Munster for some reason.
“The one thing I will say is that If they can come through this fixture, that they will announce themselves as real contenders for the cup. In my opinion is they’ll go down and give it a absolute lash. They have creativity all over the park and are very strong back row. Flanker Jamie Clegg was excellent for the Ulster juniors, while Mike Aspley is very good player, he helps to make them thick.”
Try time for Bangor in the seaside derby against near neighbours Donaghadee late on in the season. Pic: Roger Corbett, Bangor RFC website.
The fact that Bangor are going down in convoy and planning to take in two nights in Clonmel is great to hear and underlines that they intend giving this a right good go. Why not too, their silverware hopes are resting on the Cups and an away quarter final draw at Instonians means winning the Ulster Junior Cup might actually be equally as hard as winning this competition.
The turnaround for Bangor in recent weeks has been superb, the victory in Portadown was the catalyst for their momentum heading into this competition and with Morgan likely to return at ten, the potential for further progress is strong. Aspley at 13 and Clegg at seven have already being mentioned, they have a powerful front row of Whyte, Crockford and Leary and out wide they have a prolific finisher in Mark widdowson.
Winning at Clonmel however will be as tough a task as they’ll face this year. The Tipperary men beat newly Kinsale away scoring a half century of points, a good Kilfeacle side at home 31-0 and won away to former AIL outfit Clonakilty two weeks ago to mark a strong start to the season.
In Denis Leamy Clonmel have an outstanding coaching talent who is destined for work in the higher echelons of the game. He revels in club rugby though and he balances a strong work ethic within his team with an understanding that this is an amateur environment. The balance that comes from that is hugely impressive and that is why they are favourites to win the Junior league.
This competition will be in their crosshairs as well. They are one of four sides that are outright favourites and while this first round draw is as tough as they could have got, it is tests like this that they need if they are going to progress. Hold onto your hats for a gripping 80 minutes of rugby. This will be fast and tight. One for the neutrals to trek too as it will be compelling to the end.
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