The 87th Provincial Towns Cup gets underway this weekend with the clash of Newbridge and Rathdrum on Saturday afternoon while the following day there are a dozen 1st round ties down for decision…

Dundalk are the holders following their 35-20 victory against Tullamore in a tremendously exciting final held in Edenderry RFC a year ago and on Sunday they start the defenceof that prized pot when they welcome North Kildare to Mill Road.

For the county Louth club that success last April bridged a 24-year gap to its previous triumph when they beat Kilkenny 13-6 in Longford RFC.

For a club that is third on the roll of honourwith 10 wins that was a long wait and for one of the veterans on the 2011 team, prop forward Kenny Dorian it was due reward after a long time trying to get his hands on a precious Towns Cup medal.

“It’s the pinnacle of club rugby in Leinster”, Kenny reflected recently, “lots of good players never won a Towns Cup medal.”

Dorian made his Towns Cup debut way back in 1997 and has had his share of heartache along the way. “Losing the 2000 Final in Navan was especially sore and then we lost two semi finals in a row to Tullamore, which I suppose made beating them last year in the final that little bit sweeter.”

For the club it was a special time as not alone did Dundalk have a high profile in Leinster as a result of the win but it was huge locally as well.

“It was terrific to have the Heineken Cup and the Towns Cup side by side one night in the club. In the same year that we won the Towns Cup local boys Rob and Dave Kearney were members of the Leinster squad’s march through Europe.

“It was fantastic for Dundalk and the status the club enjoyed as one of the top teams in Leinster made me value the win. For the excitement it generated it was better than winning the League.”

Kenny went on to explain what a Towns Cup Final appearance meant to a provincial town with all the hype generated in the local community. “The media coverage was wall to wall… The local businesses and our sponsors were draped with flags and bunting, there were banners all over the town.

“We had tremendous support on the day and when we returned home that night after winning the Cup there were 500 or 600 people at the club to greet us. The county council held a civic reception in our honour.

“It was great for the town and it meant we were up there with the soccer club who had enjoyed much national success over the years.”

And what about tomorrow week and the visit of North Kildare?

“After getting one medal I’d love to follow it up with a second and the great thing about the Cup is a small team can have a shot at a big team. I don’t know much about North Kildare other than they’re a couple of Divisions below us in the League.”

After the Cup success last season many people fancied Dundalk to win the League and maybe get promotion to the AIL but instead they’ve been battling relegation.

“Twelve players from the Towns Cup winning squad are not playing now for a variety of reasons including emigration,” Kenny explained. “Our captain Stephen McGee is in New Zealand, influential out half John Dodd is in Russia while veteran Brendan Cunningham has retired.

“It’s harder to hold on to players when you’re that bit farther away from Dublin as many of the young lads are in college there.”

Kenny Dorian is one of those lucky enough to have won a Towns Cup medal; as he says, there are many good players who never got their hands on one. 

Next weekend the drama starts all over again and to witness unbridled passion on the pitch as well as the special atmosphere on the sidelines and the warm welcome in the clubhouse, you could do a whole worse than go to see what makes the Provincial Towns Cup so magical.

Dundalk RFC begin the defence of the Towns Cup this Sunday when they take on North Kildare at the Mill Road. Kick-off is at 2.30pm. This match will see Dundalk wear a one off charity jersey that will be auctioned off after the match in aid of the Irish Cancer Society.