It was a mixed bag over the weekend, as far as Heineken Junior Cup rugby was concerned and included upsets, nailbiters, a refix and a hiding.

Loughrea proved the giantkiller knocking over Westport in a four-penalty 9-3 win. The disappointment continued for Westport barely a week on from their AIL Junior Cup defeat to Tullamore. Loughrea, however, are staking a name for themselves as Cup bogeys, regularly fighting well above their weight come knock-out time.

Corrib posted a whopping 47points against Portumna in the Plate, the biggest margin over the weekend, Portumna managing a try and penalty squeezing the gulf to 39.

Very little separated the rest as five matches finished within seven-points. Carrick edged out UCG by two 25-23 with a last-gasp penalty; Galwegians reversed their senior result against Buccaneers winning 18-15, (11 kicks); Dunmore managed an unspectacular 10, but proved spectacular-enough against Creggs’ six. And a plucky Ballyhaunis posted an unconverted try against Monivea’s 12 to give the AIL Junior Cup finalists a fright. The game was poised at five-all on the 60minute mark, and perhaps was foremost among the weekend’s thrillers. Ballina hosted Boys Club and plugged the homeground advantage for all it was worth, winding up 13nil victors, Tuam beat Ballinrobe in the plate, and Sligo and Connemara’s fixture rolls over to this weekend coming. The Cup semi-finals comprise three Galway contingents and a Mayo crowd: Loughrea, Ballina, Galwegians and Monivea. Those alive in the plate, aside from last week’s byes (Gort and Ballinasloe), are Corrib, Corinthians, Dunmore, Tuam, Carrick and the winner of Sligo and Connemara.

Both Cup and Plate draws took place Monday evening during Connacht’s Branch monthly meeting.

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Galwegians host Monivea, the latter having already determined its AIL Junior Cup championship status v Tullamore on Saturday, February 18. Galwegians have gone from strength to strength since Christmas and have leapfrogged three pre-Christmas table spots with solid performances. The fact nearly 90percent of the run-on team is still under21 eligible bodes well for the club’s senior ranks as early as next winter, if not the winter thereafter.

Monivea cannot be discounted in any junior competition, be it league or cup, and will look to consolidate the silverware over the summer. Whether or not they suffer any personnel setbacks courtesy of the AIL campaign remains to be seen, but with a wealth of depth on their FirstXV bench they will likely be no less of a threat with or without the Tullamore (Dubarry Park) final between times.

Ballina, who possess little of the flair apparent in both ‘Wegians and Monivea camps, have made mistake-free football their forte. Content to tackle, tackle, run and tackle some more sometimes for entire halves, capitalise on opposition mistakes and starve pretenders of possession. 

Mathematically, one spot shy of the pole position in the league, they will probably have too much in the tank be it kilos, smarts, experience, and close-won victories for the smaller and slighter Loughrea. Ballina may not do it prettily, but their brand is far from ugly either. And it’s been some time since a green performance was marred by missed touch and handling errors.

Loughrea though, having disposed of heavily-favoured Westport last week, must not be written off. It is after all Cup rugby, and for 80 short minutes history goes out the window. Pedigree counts for little, and Loughrea is doing its level-best to assert its own branding on Connacht junior rugby.

plateQF2_640x537The Plate too offers much in the way of excitement for the nine clubs still involved. The ninth comes by way of a Sligo v Connemara fixture re-scheduled as a double-banger league/cup hybrid to knock over each’s outstanding regular season tie. Its winner will meet Tuam in Tuam to advance into semi-final territory.

Elsewhere, Corrib, Ballinasloe and Gort (the latter two by way of first round byes) fly the J1B colours; Dunmore, Carrick-on-Shannon, Connemara, and Sligo the J1C entries still alive. Corinthians and Tuam – both favoured to occupy semi-final spots given their J1A status – round out the quarterfinalists.

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