Junior Rugby Round-up with Luke O’Donnell

Connacht Rugby’s Junior 1A premier league kicks off on Saturday afternoon in unprecedented (and unknown) fashion.

This winter introduces Saturday fixtures sanctioned and scheduled with branch blessing. Sunday rugby continues exclusively for some clubs, and remains the go-to default date where contention occurs, but Saturdays are available to those who assent and acquiesce – to players’ delight.

Unknown given the season opener comprises two 2013 Div 1A newbies: Castlebar returns from a one-winter hiatus in the second-tier 1B competition while longtime AIL entry Connemara begins their campaign to rejoin senior ranks. Castlebar suffered much from a crippling personnel-exodus bound for the Antipodes but club growth has at least restored it to full muster.

Connemara, it too plagued by a shortage in the rank-and-file are battle-hardened by a different ballgame altogether – senior rugby. While the ignominy of the drop down stings still, war-weary rugby acumen will stand them in good stead in the smaller (albeit less-structured and more open) provincial junior contest.

Castlebar, 5pm for that one.

Perennial top-fourers Tuam host a rejuvenated Westport just off the N17 for their opener at 7pm Saturday night. Tuam started well last season, fell off the pace as the weather worsened amid December and tore into the competition’s second half like men possessed. The fact they performed so admirably for so many weeks on end during the first few months of 2013 coupled with a handy and well-stocked SecondXV suggests they are one of a select few capable of wresting the league title from Monivea.

Time will tell whether Westport can reintroduce the uncompromising forward hegemony they had for so long, Tuam is an able opponent to measure that mark.

Speaking of which, the black-and-red Abbeysiders meet Ballina in Monivea on Sunday afternoon (2.30pm). There is little point debating Monivea’s strength in any given season. Rarely is it a question of “whether”, but simply “to what degree”. Against current Cawley Cup holders Ballina first up, Monivea’s first game will prove a much-anticipated litmus test for all with stakes in the 1A competition and, with the exception of a drawn result, will gift the winner an invaluable headstart on the table.

1B success-story Ballinasloe host 2012 Cawley Cup winners Our Lady’s Boys Club in mid-east Galway Sunday afternoon also. Ballinasloe’s was a familiar call from the wilderness, having strayed no further than a short few seasons from junior rugby’s premier level.

Boys Club too have boast a recent pedigree as Cawley Cup victors in 2012 and knocked over the Galwegians senior side in a pre-season fixture two weekends out from the competition opener.

Corinthians open their card with the bye.

Will Monivea be toppled, is Westport on the up, is it finally time for Tuam’s day in the sun? 

And what of the three new faces: Castlebar, Connemara and Ballinasloe?

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