IRELAND begin this season’s U-20 Six Nations Championship with a home game against Italy as international rugby returns to Athlone on Friday night. Kick off for this hugely anticipated match is 7.30 p.m. Pre-sales of tickets are going well but cash will be taken at the turnstiles for what should be a lively and highly entertaining encounter.

Ireland stars such as Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Keith Earls, Sean Cronin and Sean O’Brien have all played in recent seasons at the Athlone stadium where Ireland have a splendid record, losing just once there over the past four seasons. David O’Callaghan, Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan are among the leading lights this year while local interest will feature on wing Tiernan O’Halloran, whose dad Aidan hails from Moate, while hooker Danny Buckley began his rugby at nearby Creggs. Connacht have a third player Eoin Griffin also in the Ireland panel. Nevin Spence, Jack O’Connell, Brian Hayes and John Cooney are other players worth noting in a squad coached by Allen Clarke, assisted by Nigel Carolan, while Mick Kearney is the new Manager.

These floodlit matches are wonderful opportunities for sports fans from the midlands region to see the stars of the future up close and personal where there is generally a wonderful atmosphere on international match nights. The RTE TV cameras will add to the occasion as all three home fixtures are being transmitted live from Dubarry Park this season. Indeed, Ireland U-20’s preceded their Senior counterparts by winning a grand slam just three seasons ago. Hopefully, this team can repeat that magnificent feat and the game against Italy should be the ideal launching pad.

The host Buccaneers club puts in a massive effort in hosting these highly prestigious matches with a substantial amount of background work being put in for a sizeable period of time, not simply on match night itself. Of course, all this would not be possible without the support of ESB International who again join with the IRFU in staging these games for the fifth season in Athlone.

To avoid the rush on match night, tickets can be bought beforehand at The Bounty, Musicworld Golden Island, Keenan Sports Athlone or Hartens shop in Moate. Stand tickets are best bought in advance to ensure your seat while Family tickets priced at only €30 will admit 2 adults and 2 children are the best value.

So lets see another bumper crowd in Athlone on Friday night roaring on these stars of the future.

Michael Silke

CORK CONSTITUTION richly deserved their 15-11 victory over Garryowen in the AIB Cup final played at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on a beautiful but crisp midlands afternoon. Con were the better team for long periods of this contest between two recent winners as they put behind him their dismal final display of last season when Ballynahinch embarrassed them.

They began in urgent and purposeful fashion and Richard Lane finished off typically for a 14th minute try. But Scott Deasy failed to convert and had earlier missed a very straight-forward penalty so their 5-0 lead was poor return for the dominance of the Cork side. Garryowen gradually came more into the game, helped by a brace of Conor Murray penalties to edge ahead, before disaster seemed to descend on the hot favourites when they suffered a double-blow in the final move of the half. Garryowen stretched their lead to 11-5 when Michael Sherry was driven over the line for an unconverted try while, in the same move, Cork Con lock Ian Nagle got a straight red card on the intervention of an assistant referee.

But, on the resumption, Con stepped up their endeavours immeasureably and they seemed to have the extra player as they came at Garryowen in droves. Critically they seemed to lose possession too readily once inside the Limerick side’s 22 but they never shirked from their game plan or self belief. Their terrific commitment and support play was eventually rewarded when Dara Lyons did exceptionally well to finish for a 68th minute try which Deasy converted for the slimmest of advantages.

Garryowen were most disappointing in the second period and fullback Deasy sealed the trophy with a last minute penalty for a totally merited Cork Con triumph.

Michael Silke

CITY OF DERRY rode their luck to deny Armagh at the death of an absorbing AIB Junior Cup final in Dubarry Park, Athlone. Armagh were, arguably, the better outfit, but Derry hung on for long spells and then applied the killer punch in the dying moments of a gripping battle.

The losers set the early pace but, after absorbing early pressure, Derry opened the scoring with some play. Mark O’Connor, later to emerge their hero, made their first inroads into Armagh territory to earn a close-in scrum that led to a penalty for the north-westerners. Alert scrumhalf Andrew Semple tapped quickly and was touching down for a 8th minute try on the left. Armagh responded with a brace of Adam Gowing penalties before Richard McCarter got a blockdown in his own half before racing through for 31st minute try which he also converted to put Derry back in front. Gowing landed his third penalty to leave Armagh trailing 12-9 at halftime.

Midway through the second half, Matthew Irwin got through for an Armagh try and they held on to their tenuous advantage until added time during which winger Irwin spurned a clearcut try chance to wrap up the trophy but he attempted to cut inside fatally with the line at his mercy. City of Derry made the most of this let-off and, four minutes into stoppage time, O’Connor took a pass wide on the right to burst through for the vital try although his touchdown seemed short of the line. He cared not a wit, nor did he worry about some earlier poor placekicks, as he coolly picked himself up to land an exquisite conversion from the touchline to snatch a most dramatic 19-17 victory. 


Mini-Rugby between Ballina RFC and Loughrea RFC