The wait for the 2018 Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup 1st Round action is almost over as this weekend 24 clubs begin their quest for glory.
The famous cup is currently in the hands of Tullow RFC who beat Skerries RFC 2nd XV in the final last year. Tullow start their campaign with a tricky away tie against Naas RFC 2nd XV, who themselves had a decent run in the competition last year.
It is always difficult to know what a second team of a club will bring to the table but Tullow won’t have any room for error as they open their defence.
Skerries have home comforts on Sunday as they welcome Newbridge to Holmpatrick. They will enter the game as favourites but will have to be on their game. Newbridge shipped a hefty beating at the hands of Tullow in the opening round last year and they will be eager to bounce back from that.
In a repeat of last year’s opening round game, Clondalkin will welcome Edenderry. Last year’s game in Edenderry finished with the visitors coming away with a three-point win. Another tight encounter is to be expected.
Those looking for a real David and Goliath cup clash need look no further than the meeting of Midland Warriors and Enniscorthy. The Warriors are at home in Moate and this will stand to them, but Enniscorthy are a serious outfit and play their rugby in Leinster League Division 1A. They also won the competition in 2015 while Warriors were beaten in the opening round last year.
Tullamore have a proud tradition in cup rugby and their second team will be at home in the opening round with Athy the visitors on Sunday. The two sides will fancy their chances in this one. Both had disappointing runs last year with Tullamore exiting in the 1st round while Athy were beaten by North Kildare in the 2nd round.
Cill Dara RFC and Roscrea will meet in an interesting tie. Roscrea were beaten in the opening round by finalists Skerries last season while Cill Dara, who got a bye in the opening round last year, lost their first game to an impressive Wicklow side. Neither of these will be tipped to win the competition but one of them will advance and gain momentum.
Mullingar have been dealt a difficult opening encounter with an away date against 2016 champions Wicklow. The home side will have one eye on this cup whereas Mullingar would probably have been looking for a kinder draw, or at least a home tie to kick start their charge. They are not without hope but Wicklow will relish the chance to give their home support an opening round win.
A similar encounter in terms of the strength of teams involved is the meeting of Dundalk and North Kildare. North Kildare had a decent run to the quarter-final last year before they were well beaten by eventual champions Tullow. They went further than Dundalk but the Louth men had a tough second round game against old rivals Enniscorthy with the men from Wexford winning narrowly.
There will be an all Leinster League Division 2B clash when Wexford Wanderers take on Balbriggan. A real 50/50 clash and one that is likely to be a tough cup tie with both sides keen to advance and maybe draw a big gun in the next round.
Portlaoise and Navan seconds were dumped out in the 2nd round last year but only one of them will get that far this year with the two set to clash in Portlaoise. Navan were well beaten by Tullow last season while the Laois men fell to Skerries.
The meeting of Kilkenny and Boyne will be one of the clashes to watch. Kilkenny were disappointed to go out early last year with Wicklow beating them by a point but Boyne will pose a similar tough test in the opening round having competed in the All-Ireland League in recent years. Home advantage will stand to Kilkenny, but it is the second year in a row they have been handed a tough draw.
Finally it will be Wexford taking on Carlow when Gorey play host to Co Carlow on Sunday. Gorey reached the quarter-finals last year only to lose narrowly to Ashbourne while Co Carlow were sent packing in the opening round by Dundalk.
Gorey will go into the game as favourites, particularly with home advantage but this is a game where the favourites will have to be on their game to progress against a club who hold the record for the number of Towns Cup trophies.
The second round draw for the Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup will take place in Naas RFC at 5pm on Sunday, 21st January.
Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup – 1st Round Draw
Saturday, 20th January (KO 7pm)
Clondalkin RFC v Edenderry RFC
Cill Dara RFC v Roscrea RFC
Sunday, 21st January (KO 2.30pm)
Midland Warriors RFC v Enniscorthy RFC
Tullamore RFC 2nd XV v Athy RFC
New Ross RFC v Arklow RFC
Wicklow RFC v Mullingar RFC
Dundalk RFC v North Kildare RFC
Wexford Wanderers RFC v Balbriggan RFC
Naas RFC 2nd XV v Tullow RFC
Portlaoise RFC v Navan RFC 2nd XV
Kilkenny RFC v Boyne RFC
Skerries RFC 2nd XV v Newbridge RFC
Gorey RFC v County Carlow FC
1st Round byes: Ashbourne RFC, Longford RFC, Portarlington RFC