Heineken Connacht Junior Cup Quarter Final
Westport RFC v Castlebar RFC, Carrowholly, Sunday 2:30
There is something about this game that suggests we could see the best of both sides this weekend. The league pressures are off, both clubs have all but achieved their pre-season targets and both are ready to have a very strong push for cup glory.
Westport have a top four place all but secured in Division 1a after a remarkable turnaround in the past three months where they won six from seven. Castlebar are set to bounce straight back to DIvision 1a after last year’s relegation and are yet to lose in 13 games this season.
Caption: Under Seamus King, Castlebar are looking to re-discover the form of 2009 and 2010 when they won back to back Cawley Cups. This picture was taken after the surprise win over Sligo in the 2010 final. Pic: Sporting Occasions, 2010 Cawley Cup final.
Home advantage and the higher quality opponents the Bulls have faced up to this point should point to a clear winner but this is a derby, Castlebar are clearly a top flight quality side and they have a balance from 1 to 15 that could be the right potion to usurp the the favourites.
Since their All Ireland Cup loss in Kanturk last October, Westport have got a lot right, as Eoin Joyce highlighted, it wasn’t a turnaround that came from nowhere. They started this season with a very talented squad but inexperience meant it was always going to take time to get the mix right.
Liam Scahill has led well from the second row this year, the pack has benefited greatly from the return of Conor Hastings while Chris Ryan is developing into a key forward. In the backline, young Andre McAleer has been the chief threat and a try scoring asset.
They’ve lost some key components from that backline with Tom McDonagh and Kevin Corcoran both gone for the rest of the season. That’s a blow and while the cover will be strong, the duo had the ability to unlock some of the best defences in the province.
For Castlebar, the focus has been on a return to the top flight and getting Seamus King back on board as head coach was key. He’s brought them back to basics and he has a forward unit that looks as good as most in Division 1a.
The scrum was the foundation to their semi final success in Creggs with Liam Molloy and Brian Flannery both excellent. The back row orchestrated the tries and Gavin Sullivan is in brilliant form at the moment.
Castlebar don’t have the same firepower in the backline but that’s not to say they can’t cause Westport plenty of headaches with captain Nigel Byrne at 12 pulling the strings and a young back three with finishing ability.
In any cup tie, the flash in the pan moments are key and something as small as a missed penalty kick in the opening ten minutes could prove to be the key moment of the game come full time.
Goal kicking will be key but set piece might also be crucial. Neither side has a distinct advantage in those areas so it’s up for grabs in that regard. Westport have lost some firepower out wide but Eddie and JP Walsh have built a squad this season to cover for that.
The home side come into this game in the kind of form that we haven’t seen from them since 2006, Castlebar are a rejuvenated confident force. You really couldn’t ask for a better setting for this local tussle. It will be tight but covies seem as safer bet, just.
Home by 2
Monivea v Corinthians, Castle Ground 2:30
Two clubs that know each other very well, Monivea come in as favourites for all the obvious reason including a 14 game win streak within the province and home advantage but Corinthians remain many people’s dark horse.
The reason for this is based almost solely on the huge progress the club is making at senior level, we’ve heard very little about their juniors but they haven’t been bad, comfortable in fact for most of the season. The loss away to Tuam in early January had some wondering if they were losing their way but they’ll be much stronger here.
For Monivea, it’s vital that the Cup run continues for confidence and quality game time with such a long lay off before the Round Robin Qualifiers in late April. Quite apart from that, it’s a while since they won this and as a group they’ll be anxious to make a statement in the coming months with many feeling they might come up short if Galwegians reach last year’s heights.
Home by 4
OLBC v Galwegians, Sportsground 2:30
There is always an edge to this side, these two sides no each other so well with plenty of player cross over in recent years and lots of key encounters. OLBC won the early season league encounter but remain very much in bother down at the wrong end of the table tied with Loughrea and three behind Galwegians.
The Cup is a distraction to such concerns but both sets of players will relish a chance to reach the semi final of this competition. For Galwegians, it’s about proving that they’re better than some pretty average league form this season. By the end of last year’s Cup run, they looked the strongest side in the province but that has been the case this season even when at full strenght.
Yet there win in Tuam was their best display of the season so far and has many thinking they will peak again in time for another cup triumph. It’s hard to see them stopped if they do. OLBC have improved since their early season troubles and the Cawley Cup champions on home soil are capable of an upset but all signs point to a sky blue win and they might even do so with a score to spare.
Away by 8
Sligo v Gort, Hamilton Park
After Sligo’s AIL win in Connemara a couple of weeks back Paddy Pearson remarked that the long term goal for the club at J1 level has to be for them to be playing in the top division if they’re to progress at senior. He’s spot on and that kind of progress will take a considerable amount of time to implement.
Yet this season, they have really pushed on, they remain promotion contenders heading into the final rounds and their cup progress has been a real positive story. A semi final place is within their graps with fellow third division side Gort a challenge they’ll respect and relish equally.
Gort lost up in Sligo earlier this season but they are a different force now. If it wasn’t for a home draw with Carrick on Shannon which counted as double points in this league, they would be very much in the driving seat for an immediate return to the second tier.
Their win over rivals Loughrea in the last round was probably the biggest high the club has felt since the famous cup win of 2004 and they’ll be keen to build on that. They’ll travel in good numbers on the long journey north and if they can reproduce their best, this will be a one score nail bitter. An extremely tough call but the home side might have just enough to edge it.
Home by 2
* The Draw for the semi finals will take place on Sunday evening.