With the Junior 1A heavyweights advancing beyond January 8 untested, first round victors Corrib, Creggs, Loughrea, Buccaneers, Ballyhaunis and Ballinrobe now pit wits, wiles and weight for quarter-final berths.

The Heineken Connacht Junior Cup’s preliminary round played out much as expected, Buccaneers drawing first blood against UCG in 2011. Neither pretty nor convincing, Buccaneers managed the bare minimum against a spirited students’ side, the Dangan academics all but upsetting the applecart first game up. Loughrea, Corrib, and Creggs all posted more emphatic wins over Portumna, Gort and Carrick-on-Shannon (respectively) over the weekend, Loughrea the highest scorers at 44 (and also the biggest margin). Loughrea, a Junior 1A/1B floater in recent years are well-primed to advance further given their Sligo match-up is against a club whose all-stars compete in the AIL and will be, for the most part, unavailable for the juniors. Favoured to win, Loughrea are away from home for their next clash and may struggle to adjust to the Atlantic elements which often plague the Strandhill plateau.round_two_new

Creggs must surf a Boys Club wave this weekend, which may have rolled gently to a standstill against neighbouring Galwegians at Glenina last weekend in the league, but cannot be underestimated stinging from the four-point loss. This weekend, still smarting from the unexpected defeat, Boys Club will look to smash Creggs against the rocks and send them back east board in bits, black, blue and beaten.

Junior 1A frontrunners Monivea host Tuam. While the red-and-blacks take top-billing over the red-and-blues, Tuam is a fearless beast who simply refuse to acknowledge scorelines, deficits or not, before the final whistle. Such scant regard for scorelines has always been Tuam’s foremost virtue, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with frightening regularity. As far as this round’s headline acts go, it’s anyone’s guess?

Obviously the Galwegians/Corinthians clash will pique interest within Galway city limits as both Junior sides have atoned for poor early season starts and are hitting their straps for the pre-Easter campaign. The Mayo derby will be keenly-contested but recent form suggests Westport has enough in the tank (and on the bench) to ward off the Castlebar challenge.

The two Ballyhaunis/Ballinrobe and Buccaneers/Ballinasloe matches could well be the pick of the bunch. In what has emerged as a Junior 1B/1C four-way dogfight, each can plausibly pull-off a quarter-final spot, and with a kind draw thereafter can expect good representation in the semis. Buccaneers claim the psychological advantage, 27-6 over Ballinasloe in the league on Dubarry soil, but Cup rugby is a little more complicated. Ballinrobe is third from the bottom in that competition, whereas Ballyhaunis tops the next one down.

Swords will fall this weekend, and at least three Junior 1A sides will summer to the tune of “if only…”. Ballyhaunis and Sligo hold up the Junior 1C fort at this stage.

Time will tell whether either of them can claim a dragon-slaying scout badge come Monday morning.

Referee appointments:

Ballina v Corrib (D Collins); Creggs v OLBC (T Horkan); Galwegians v Corinthians (IPAS); Sligo v Loughrea (D Flood); Buccaneers v Ballinasloe (K White); Westport v Castlebar (E Dormer); Monivea v Tuam (K Collins); Ballyhaunis v Ballinrobe (J Doyne). 

All games commence at 2pm, first name listed at home.

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