Interesting weekend coming up for the Four Qualifying leagues with only three Ulster sides Limavady, Strabane and BHSFP not playing.
The Qual clubs will be watching closely the results of Instonians 1st XV in the AIL with the potential to effect promotion and relegation issues throughout the four Qualifying leagues. Qual One clubs apart from Clogher Valley and Portadown have received an extension to complete their league programme by the 12th April. The focus starts with the pursuit of the Qual One title by Clogher Valley. The County Tyrone side and their nearest challengers Portadown have four matches to complete by the 15th March including rearranged games on the 12th March, resulting in the two teams having to play three matches in eight days. The Round Robin tournament for the four provincial winners will commence on Sat 22nd March with the remaining games on the 5th and 12th April. Between now and the 21st April the Fivemiletown side will potentially play eleven games that include Qual league/Towns cup/Conference League/Round Robin and a potential playoff with the second bottom team in Div 2B of the AIL if they didnt win the Round Robin tournament. The playoff game would be on Sat 19th April with a potential Towns Cup Final on Monday the 21st April. There are questions for the Administrators of the Club game in Ulster!!!! Why are our successful sides ending up in a similar situation every season. Clogher Valley have played twenty five games so far this season with another potential eleven to come. When we look at the other Junior leagues in Leinster, Munster and Connacht the club sides have fewer games to play with different structures in their leagues. In Leinster there are eight teams in Junior 1A with the sides having a total of fourteen league games to play. Wanderers are the league champions with one game left this weekend to complete their programme. They are 27 points ahead of second place Dundalk. This will ensure Wanderers have three weeks off before the Round Robin tournament starts on the 22nd March. In Munster there are fourteen teams in Junior 1 with clubs having to play thirteen matches with no home and away fixtures with each club. Kanturk are on course to win the league with two games to complete their programme by the 9th March. They are five points ahead of second place St Mary’s. Again they will have a two week break before the Round Robin starts. In Connacht there are nine teams in Junior 1. Monivea appear to be Connacht’s representatives with two matches to complete by the 16th March. Ballina are five points behind them.The Connacht sides play a total of sixteen games in the season. In Ulster we have ten teams in Qual 1 with eighteen matches to be played. These statistics might explain why Leinster have 20 teams in the AIL, Munster have 16 teams, Connacht have four teams. Ulster have twelve teams. Is it not time Ulster rugby reviewed this log jam that occurs every season in Qual One. Should consideration not be given to reducing the number of teams in Qual One to lessen the fixture schedule placed on the competing clubs. With Qual One clubs competing in League/Conf league/JuniorCup/Towns Cup and All Ireland Junior Cup we are asking our top clubs to play in over thirty fixtures each season. Perhaps a reduction in the number of Qual fixtures would allow the Ulster clubs to be more competitive in the All Ireland Junior Cup and Round Robin tournament.
In Qual Two Ballyclare can take another step towards the league title by defeating nearest challengers Omagh at Mellon Park. Strabane remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the table with no wins from eleven games. Limavady, Carrickfergus, Enniskillen and Grosvenor will look to avoid finishing second bottom.
In Qual Three the top two sides Holywood and Larne meet at the Glynn in a must win game for Larne. A win for Holywood would make them clear favourites to lift the title. At the bottom of the table Lurgan, Letterkenny, Monaghan and the PSNI will fight it out to avoid relegation.
In Qual Four Ophir remain favourites to win this league. Cavan and Virginia will fight it out for second place with an outside chance of promotion.
Bangor(4) v Ballymoney(3)
The seasiders will be reeling from the controversial outcome of their narrow 18-17 defeat at Ballynahinch seconds in the Towns Cup Quarter Final last Sat. They have the opportunity to regain third place in the league and secure a place in the All Ireland Junior Cup this weekend. Ballymoney have played three games more than Bangor and have only two league matches remaining. Ballymoney coaches Jason Taggart and Neil Beddow know a win is vital for their side if they are to secure a top four finish. The faithful at Kilraughts will have been deflated by the heavy loss suffered by the team at Ballymena seconds in the Towns Cup last Sat. When the sides met at Ballymoney in November Bangor lost 20-13. Expect Bangor Captain Jamie Clegg to lift his team for their remaining six legaue matches. Bangor to win.
Coleraine(7) v Clogher Valley(1)
The top four ambitions of Coleraine will once again be examined by Clogher Valley after the Fivemiletown team won their Towns Cup game on their North Coast travels last Sat 31-10. The two sides had already met in the league at the Cran in Nov when the County Tyrone side won 32-8. Coleraine coach Richard Beggs will have to manage his playing resources with five games coming up in the next fifteen days. Clogher Valley coaches Glen Kyle and Davy Black will have to manage their players with several titles to pursue in the coming weeks. For this weekend’s game they will add Kyle Cobain, Philip Moore and Barry John Wilson to the squad. They have played twenty five games with scrum half Aaron Best featuring in all of them followed closely by David Sharkey. The difficulty for the coaches is that the players want to play in every game. The coaches are trying to rotate the squad with a demanding fixture programme to complete. Clogher Valley to win
Cooke(8) v Portadown(2)
Interesting game at Shaws bridge this weekend. When the two sides met at Chambers Park in November, Portadown struggled to win a keenly contested game 15-10. Cooke need league points to remain ahead of second bottom Donaghadee that will focus the minds of player coach Colin Atkinson and his players. Portadown need Clogher Valley to slip up in their quest to retain last seasons league title. Coach Richard Hedley will be disappointed his talented playing squad have not been able to secure any silverware this season. Cooke recorded an impressive 19-13 win against a strong Belfast Harlequins seconds team in the McCrea Cup Quarter Final last Sat. Cooke to win
Dromore(5) v CIYMS(6)
Both teams are pushing for a top four finish. Dromore are four points ahead of CI having played one more game. For both sides the result of this match is crucial if they are to fulfil their ambitions this season. CI have lost their last four league games and secured a morale boosting McCrea Cup win against Queens seconds last Sat 24-5. Dromore in their last league outing on the 15th Feb lost 18-7 at Portadown. Coaches De wet Bekker and Jeremy Ogle will want a victory to turn around a narrow 11-9 defeat at CI in November. Dromore to win
UUC(10) v Donaghadee(9)
A must win game for the Dee on Sat as they look to move away from second bottom in the league table. Coaches Stuart Hennessey and Paul McKenzie will have been delighted with the spirit shown by the players in defeating Omagh 16-12 last Sat at Donaldson Park in the Towns Cup. The availablity of second row Richard Martindale will strengthen the Dee pack this weekend. Young forwards Max Montgomery and Stephen Adams have made the step up successfully to playing Qual One rugby this season. Paul McKenzie will also welcome back his centre partner Nigel Barker who was unavailable last weekend. The veterans of the Dee XV Gareth Gordon, Chris Goode, Paul Blewitt and Billy Allen continue to perform each week. Captain Alastair Lockhart will look to these players to guide the side through the remaining five league games. Donaghadee to win
Carrickfergus(8) v Enniskillen(7)
Three points separate these two sides with Carrick having a game in hand. For both sides a win is important as they look to avoid second bottom. When the sides met at Mullaghmeen in Sept, Enniskillen recorded a narrow 8-6 win. Both coaches Warren McLean and Alasdair McKee will have their players up for this game. Expect a closely contested game at the Tom Simms Memorial Park. Carrickfergus to win
Grosvenor((6) v Randalstown(4)
Both sides have met twice this season in the league and Junior Cup. Grosvenor won 22-15 at Nelisbrook when the sides met in the junior Cup in October. In the league at home in November Randalstown ran out 17-0 winners. Grosvenor come into this game on the back of an excellent 22-3 win at Malone seconds in the McCrea Cup last Sat. Randalstown have lost their last three league games against Ballyclare, Academy and Omagh. Coach Gary Longwell will look an improved performance from his side. Grosvenor coach Peter Lowry will want his side to build on last Sat’s win as they pursue silverware in the McCrea Cup. Grosvenor to win
Lisburn(5) v Academy(3)
Both teams drew 13 – 13 when they met at Roughfort in September. Academy are battling with Omagh for second place with an outside chance of promotion to Qual One. Lisburn nearly upset league leaders at Cloughan last Sat when they lost narrowly 16-13. A must win game for Academy. Academy to win
Omagh(2) v Ballyclare(1)
Ballyclare go into this game with a thirteen point league on Omagh, having played one game more; knowing a win will all but secure the league title with four games remaining. The two sides have played each other twice this season. Ballyclare recorded a convincing 42-10 win in the Junior Cup when the two sides met at the Cloughan in October. When the two sides met at the same venue in November, Ballyclare recorded a narrow 21-16 league win. Omagh will have been disappointed to lose their Towns Cup match at Donaghadee last Sat 16-12 when they dominated possession and terrority. With an outside chance of promotion, expect both sides to compete for the points in this crucial league game. Ballyclare to win.
Larne(2) v Holywood(1)
This is the game Larne coach and his players have been waiting on since their 46 -22 at Kerr Park in September. The manner of the defeat hurt the Larne players. They did get revenge when they defeated Holywood 13-0 when the two sides met at the Glynn in the Gordon West Cup in November. Expect a very large crowd for this match. Holywood to win.
Lurgan(5) v Letterkenny(6)
When the two sides met in October at the Dave Gallagher Memorial Pk in October, the Donegal side ran out 35-13 winners. Lurgan are a much improved side under coach Bruce Corneilius. Letterkenny are into the semi finals of the Gordon West Cup after their 6-5 win over Monaghan last Sat. Lurgan put up a strong performance when losing 24-0 at league leaders Holywood last Sat. Both sides need league points to move away from the relegation zone. Difficult game to call. Lurgan to win.
Newry(3) v Monaghan(7)
The South Down side have made the semi finals of the Gordon West Cup after winning a thrilling Quarter final at Donegal. When the two sides met at Monaghan in October , Newry won 22-5. Telford Park has become a fortress for this Newry side. When the sides met at the same venue in a Gordon West Cup Group match in November , Newry were 15-7 winners. Newry will look to complete the treble over Monaghan as they push for a Cup final place at Ravenhill on Sat the 19th April. Monaghan need the points to move away from the relegation area. Newry to win
PSNI(8) v Donegal Town(4)
When these two sides met in October Donegal ran out 40 -7 winners. Expect the South Donegal side to come out with a win as the PSNI struggle to avoid relegation. Donegal to win
Armoy(7) v Ophir(1)
These two sides have already met this season, with Ophir winning 38-7 at Lime Park in September. When the two sides met at Mallusk in January, Ophir ran out 75-0 winners. Armoy last played on the 11th January when they lost 25-5 at BHSFP. In their last league outing on Sat, Ophir won 37-5 at home to BHSFP.
The North Belfast side remained undefeated after eleven games with a maximum twenty two points. Ophir to win
Cavan(2) v Civil Service(5)
When these two sides met at Swellan Park in September, Civil Service ran out 12-0 winners. When the two sides met at Stormont in December, Cavan won 41-5. Cavan last played a league game at home on the 18th Jan when they beat BHSFP 18-0. Civil Service last played ont the 25th Jan when they lost 57-0 at home to league leaders Ophir. Cavan have an outside chance of promotion and will look for another two league points. Cavan to win
Londonderry YMCA(6) v Virginia(3)
When the two sides met at Drumahoe in October , Virginia ran out 22-13 winners. YMCA havent played a league game since the 18th January when they defeated Civil Service at home 27-10. The weather has postponed YM’s last three league games. Virginia last played on the 11th January when they defeated Civil Service at Stormont 26-19. Their last two home games have been postponed due to the weather. Virginia are competing with their near neighbours Cavan for second place with an outside chance of promotion. Virginia to win.