It is a return to action for the teams in Qualifying One and Two after the first round of the Towns Cup last Saturday. Impressive wins by Bangor and Ballymena seconds will further their ambitions of Cup success this season. Once again the stand out fixtures in the second round to be played on the 25th January are the two games between Ballyclare and Clogher Valley and the County Down derby between Dromore and Ballynahinch seconds.
In Qualifying One the race for the title will see the top four sides playing each other this weekend Clogher Valley v Bangor and CIYMS v Portadown. Can Ballymoney and Dromore who meet each other this weekend make a push for a top four place to qualify for the All Ireland Junior Cup. So much to play for.
Ballymoney v Dromore
Fascinating fixture at Kilraughts Road as the in form Dromore on the back of four league and Cup wins look to secure a top four place in the league. Ballymoney are experiencing a run of only one win from their last five games with their coaches Neil Beddow and Jason Taggart looking to turn around the teams performances as they look to secure a top four position. Both teams met at Barban Hill in September in the league when they battled out a 15 – 15 draw. When they met in the Junior Cup at Kilraughts Road Ballymoney ran out 22 – 12 winners. Dromore coaches Dewet Bekker and Jeremy Ogle have turned round the fortunes of the County Down side after they lost four league games in a row to the top four sides. With Dromore entertaining Ballynahinch seconds in the Towns Cup this game will show whether Dromore can match up to the performance Ballymoney put in, in losing narrowly to Ballynahinch seconds in the Junior Cup semi final 19 – 13. Ballymoney to win
CIYMS v Portadown
The Belmont side have slipped down to fourth place with both Ballymoney and Dromore closing in on them. If results go against them this weekend they could be displaced from the top four. For a club who had ambitions of winning the league: failure to qualify for the All Ireland Junior Cup cannot be contemplated by their faithful supporters. Much to play for this weekend. Portadown will be hurting from their disappointing Towns Cup defeat at home to Ballymena seconds last weekend. Their only piece of silverware they can pursue is to retain the Qualifying league title with Clogher Valley in pole position. The meeting of these two sides at Chambers Park on the 18th January will surely determine the race for this years title. For CI Captain Stuart Ferguson and coach Graham Cloke this is a must win game. Portadown will have been disappointed to lose second row Willy Graham to a serious leg injury. Both teams met at Chamber Park in September when Portadown won 17 – 6. Discipline will be crucial in this keenly contested game with CI outhalf Matthew McGuigan having a vital role to play.
CIYMS to win
Clogher Valley v Bangor
The memory of that 14 – 12 defeat to the seasiders in September will have left a sore that the County Tyrone side will want to reverse. Coaches Glen Kyle and Davy Black will know that for several of their players they will be playing their twenty game this weekend of a long season with crucial games coming up in the next three weeks against Portadown, Ballyclare in the Towns Cup and Enniscorthy in the All Ireland Junior Cup final. Bangor will represent a serious challenge this weekend with Coach Rupert Preston giving several of his younger squad members the opportunity to stake a place for a 1st xv place after their league defeat at Donaghadee. The youngsters in forwards, Adam Rushe and Darren Kelly have grabbed the opportunity in their wins over CIYMS and City of Derry seconds. Bangor have a talented backline well marshalled by the experienced Jason Morgan that will test the Clogher Valley defence. Clogher to win. But they will be hard pushed by the North Down side who still have league ambitions.
Cooke v Donaghadee
Crucial match for two sides who sit in the bottom three with UUC. Both sides would have had ambitions to finish in the top four this season. Such is the strength of the playing squads in this league they have been unable to mount a challenge. Having played eleven games the Dee have won four, all at home. They have lost all their five away league matches. Much work will have to be done by player coaches Stuart Hennessey and Paul McKenzie along with Captain Alastair Lockhart if they are to win this game. Cooke have impressed in recent weeks and will look to use that 34 – 21 McCrea Cup win at Academy last Saturday to improve their league form as they build for a push to take back the McCrea Cup this season. Cooke have only won three league games from eleven including a league double over Coleraine. Cooke to win.
UUC v Coleraine
Coleraine recorded a narrow 20 – 18 win over the students in September when the two sides met. Unfortunatley the students remain rooted to the bottom of the table with no wins from eleven games. Despite a stop start season Coleraine have bounced back from their Junior Cup semi final defeat to record wins over neighbours Ballymoney 24 – 10 in the league and Randalstown 14 – 12 in the Towns Cup last Saturday. Coach Richard Beggs is looking for consistency from his side as they look for a good run in the Towns Cup. Local derbies are always tight with the bragging rights at stake. Can the students secure that all important first league win. Coleraine to win.
Ballyclare remain clear favourites for promotion with nearest rivals Omagh, Academy and Randalstown in pursuit. Bonus points will become crucial as these teams look to close the gap on Ballyclare.
Academy v Enniskillen
The North Belfast side will be confident of taking the points after their 11 – 0 win in Fermanagh before Xmas. Skins coach Alastair McKee will be revisiting his old team and would love to take the scalp of the Academy side. He will look to see his team bounce back from their derby defeat to Omagh as they prepare for a Towns Cup clash at Donaghadee in two weeks. Two defeats to Ballyclare and Cooke will spur the Academy to win this fixture. Academy to win
Carrickfergus v Ballyclare
Expect another fiesty encounter between these two County Antrim sides. The Clare side required a late surge to claim the points when they met in November with Ballyclare securing a hard earned 29 – 15 win that flattered the hosts. Carrick were involved in a niggly contest during their defeat to Dromore last Sat when the referee issued several yellow cards including a red. The home side will know that discipline will be crucial if they want to cause an upset. Ballyclare to win
Limavady v Randalstown.
Two sides that have experienced contrasting fortunes this season. Limavady are in nineth place with Randalstown in fourth place with two games in hand to mount a late push for the league. Both sides were knocked out of the Towns Cup last Sat with Limavady suffering a heavy defeat to Clogher Valley and Randalstown narrowly defeated at Coleraine. Gary Longwell has worked his magic at Neilsbrook this season and despite a four week rest the Antrim side showed no rustiness in their game at Coleraine. Expect a Randalstown win
Omagh v Grosvenor
The County Tyrone side will need no motivation for this game as Phil Marshall’s side suffered a surprise 25 – 22 defeat at the Belmont venue in Sept. Despite the loss of their influential Captain Andrew Ferguson to a serious leg injury against Enniskillen expect the ever reliable Mervyn Edgar to slip comfortably into his old No 8 position. Omagh despite several late changes overwhelmed Dungannon seconds 48 – 3 in the Towns Cup at home last Sat scoring seven tries in the process. Full back David Ward accumulated eighteen points for his side. Grosvenor come into this game on the back of three league wins after a run of four league defeats. Omagh cannot afford to be complacent against a dangerous side who like to throw the ball about. Omagh to win
Strabane V Lisburn
Much fanfare welcomed newly promoted Strabane when they visited Blaris for their opening league game in Qualifying Two back in September only to suffer a 39 – 11 defeat to the hosts. Unfortunately after nine league games the County Tyrone side are still looking for their first league win. Lisburn put up a spirited defeat in their loss to Ballynahinch seconds in the Towns Cup last Sat. Strabane will be looking to build some momentum before they visit Ballymoney in the Towns Cup in two weeks. Lisburn after a bright start to the league have slipped down the table to seventh place. Coach David Smyth will be looking a win. Lisburn to win.