Preview – Provincial Towns Cup quarter-finals
March 24, 2022 5:03 pm Site Editor
The Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup has reached the quarter-finals point with games down for decision this weekend.
Leinster League Division 1A clubs Ashbourne, Gorey, Kilkenny and Dundalk are joined by 1B clubs County Carlow, Mullingar and Clondalkin as well as Athy, the table-toppers from 2A.
All four matches are scheduled for Sunday at 3pm.
Kilkenny RFC v County Carlow FC (Foulkstown, KO 3pm)
John Lyons returns to the heart of the County Carlow pack for this local derby.
The second row is a solid character, a real go-to force as an experienced forward with a natural presence about him.
It all starts up front where the scrum was strong against Navan, from the impact of a formidable front row of Cian Clarke, Owen Edghill and Conal Slater.
It will be a battle of the Wes’s at the lineout with Wes Shirley in command of Carlow and Wes Carter controlling Kilkenny’s calls there.
The Carlow back play is getting better. Scrum-half Jeff McDermott is as busy as ever. Richie Whyte at full-back is pivotal to the plan.
Centres Dan Crotty and Dave McDermott will be tasked with shutting down Kilkenny’s midfield in a strategy devised by coaches Corey Carty and Jeff Carter.
Based on regular-season rankings, this is a case of the third best club in Leinster League Division 1B against the second-worst in 1A.
Kilkenny have no more injury issues to add to those already indisposed this season.
They came in relatively cold off a bye in the first round to struggle to a 34-20 win against 2B Edenderry.
Player/coach David O’Connor will know how that won’t cut the mustard against their neighbours.
The forwards are a mobile lot. No 8 Gary Dunne is a leader and flanker Roy Carter is in a rich vein of form at the moment.
Hugh Corkery’s place-kicking has come on a tonne from wing or scrum-half and captain Jake McDonald is the primary playmaker from out-half.
The centre partnership between Joe Manuel and Podge Mahon is as strong as there is in the competition.
Gorey RFC v Dundalk RFC (Clonattin, KO 3pm)
Gorey will be bolstered by the return of Stephen Gardiner and Fionn O’Loughlin for what is the only all-Division 1A encounter on Sunday.
This is a major boost as ex-Lansdowne lock Gardiner, a former Ireland U-20 forward, pushes their consistency of performance.
Coach Phil de Barra will want a greater reward for the positive play generated by the forwards, compared to what happened in the 21-8 victory over Boyne last time out.
Tighthead prop Eoin Walsh has been a standout all season. He will need to be on his game against a proven Dundalk front row.
The back division, ravaged by injury all year, has started to come together as centre O’Loughlin and full-back Dave Shanahan, if fit, can add depth.
Brian O’Leary, just out of school last year, has been a revelation on the wing and those inside will try to give the tall runner quick ball in space.
A glance at the league table shows this to be a match-up between two clubs with identical records of four wins, one draw and nine losses.
Gorey secured one more bonus-point than Dundalk to finish third from bottom, their rivals dropping through the trapdoor to 1B for next season.
In terms of the head-to-head, Dundalk edged out their Wexford rivals 12-10 in September whereas Gorey ruled 18-6 at home in December.
There was something about Dundalk’s near-miracle comeback at Tullow, rebounding from a 17-point deficit with 10 minutes left on the clock to win (31-27) going away, that hints at a monumental Towns Cup run.
The Williams family, headed by Johnny in the centre, give Dundalk a unique perspective on unity of purpose.
Head coach Dave Fearon will view this as a shot at redemption for a season that never quite came together.
Ashbourne RFC v Athy RFC (Milltown House, KO 3pm)
Ashbourne were to use Thursday night’s training to make a decision on the fitness of Conor Hurley and Jack O’Brien.
Back-five forward Hurley has a competitive instinct that can simply make the Meath club better and centre O’Brien is similar in his outlook.
The Leinster League Division 1A ladder at the end of the season suggests they should come into the Towns Cup as the outright favourites, based around their six wins in the regular season.
For sure, they will have to be on guard against the 2A kingpins Athy, who took an admirable record of 11 wins from 14 rounds into the campaign.
Ashbourne club captain Sean McKeon is a top operator on the openside of a pack of forwards fronted by Mark Behan, Alan Wall and James McCaghy, all previous Towns Cup winners in 2014.
They rely on the scrum where specialist coach Dave Duff has taken his strategy and implemented it, providing a proper platform.
The traditional aspects of forward-play, ball retention at scrum and lineout, are used to get the backs rolling
Ashbourne look to the versatile Gavin Kennedy, the ex-Leinster Junior captain, who plays both half-back positions to a high level.
Backs coach Donal Crotty, the former Ireland Schools out-half, has been influential for in-form full-back Colm Craigie and a backline that is getting better at taking the chances created by numbers one to 10.
Athy continue to grow into this year’s competition, building on their League dominance in 2A.
They’ve made the Showgrounds a fortress and they are hoping to take that mentality on the road this week.
Athy are a young, tight and highly motivated unit, keen to put their form on the line to get a definitive gauge on where they rank.
Donal Milne’s men had put in back-to-back workmanlike performances together to get to the quarter-finals, playing Balbriggan (40-3) and North Kildare (43-15) from their division.
This is a serious step up in standard, one that captain Jason O’Toole will be determined to emphasise.
As long as they can stay close enough, the boot of wing Tom Glynn could just be a factor late on in setting up a shock.
Mullingar RFC v Clondalkin RFC (Shay Murtagh Park, KO 3pm)
This is an all-Division 1B contest between the two clubs that finished bottom and second last, Clondalkin dropping to 2A for next season.
In the regular season, it finished one win apiece, Clon’ taking the honours 37-29 in November and Mullingar returning the favour 40-15 in February.
Alan Brabazon played for the first time since Christmas in Mullingar’s relegation-promotion play-off battle with DLSP last week.
Better again, the midlands club were able to cap a disappointing season by staying in Division 1B, courtesy of a double-scores 30-15 domination.
The lineout has been identified as a work-on at home to Clondalkin, something to occupy the preparations of hooker Conal Fagan and caller Darach Geraghty, who was badly missed against DLSP.
Half-backs Thomas Campbell and Stuart Flynn will have a choice of weapons along the three-quarter line.
On his 100th appearance for Mullingar, centre Brabazon has renewed a dangerous midfield partnership with the difficult-to-stop Anthony McGivney.
They should attract enough attention to allow Sean Rock and Aaron Glennon the room in which to manoeuvre wider out.
Will this be the end of the road for Clondalkin? Their campaign started out with a 23-21 thriller against Portlaoise.
Then, the west Dublin club travelled to Newbridge in the second round and made light work of their hosts’ stellar home record (20-10).
Once again, coach Dave Plummer has drawn the long straw, avoiding the four 1A clubs to stand a reasonable chance of making the semi-finals.
Captain Marcus Doyle and Tom McGrath in the engine room set the tone for their defence, while Neil Finley and Tom McGrath have recently returned to add an edge to the pack.
Scrum-half Thomas Ankers brings an X-factor on the heels of the forwards.
The enthusiasm of centre Eoin Delaney and Dave Jebb is infectious for what is a 50-50 call.