What a literally epic weekend coming up!!!!!!!!!!!!! George Millar profiles the leagues MASSIF GAMES across the board – BRING IT ON!
Qualifying League One enters week fifteen with four league games remaining for league leaders Clogher Valley as they look to secure their second league title in three years. Postponements will mean clubs squeezing in fixtures before the league programme is completed on the 15th March. Clogher Valley bounced back from their All Ireland Junior Cup defeat to demolish CIYMS 41 – 8 at the Cran last Sat, to open up an eleven point lead on second place Portadown. The competition to qualify for next seasons All Ireland Junior Cup involves Bangor, Dromore, Ballymoney, CIYMS and Coleraine fighting it out for that top four placing. If the Ulster league winners enter the AIL next season the fifth place team would qualify for the AIL Junior Cup. At the bottom both Cooke and Donaghadee are involved in their own battle to avoid finishing second bottom. With Instonians sitting second bottom in AIL 2B there are various permutations that could effect promotion and relegation in Qualifying One. If no Ulster side qualifies through the Round Robin and an Ulster side is relegated from AIL 2B , two teams would be relegated into Qual Two.This would also effect Qualifying Two with two teams relegated into Qualifying Three. If no Ulster team is relegated from the AIL and the Ulster league winners enter the AIL the top two sides in Qualifying Two would be promoted into Qualifying One with the top two sides in Qualifying Three promoted into Qual Two. This is what makes the Ulster Qualifying League programme so exciting. Wherever you are in the four Qualifying leagues there is so much to play for in the coming weeks. With the Quarter Finals of the Towns and McCrea Cups taking place on Sat 22nd Feb the participating clubs will be looking wins before next weeks Cup games. Junior Cup winners Ballynahinch seconds play fellow Towns Cup Quarter Finalists Ballymena seconds in a crucial Kukri QL & Conference 1 match at Ballymacarn Park this weekend. The only Qual Two side left in the Towns Cup Omagh travel to Gibson Park to play Malone seconds in a Kukri QL & Conference Two game.
In Qualifying Two Balyclare remain the favourites to win the league after their convincing 40 – 14 win at Grosvenor last weekend. Both Omagh and Academy will fight it out for second place. With the potential for two teams being relegated from from this league, Limavady, Carrickfergus, Enniskillen and Grosvenor will have to battle it out to avoid finishing second bottom.
In Qualifying Three there will be no league games this weekend as seven of the eight teams will be involved in Gordon West Cup Quarter Final matches. The table top clash of Larne and Holywood at the Glynn on the 1st March will decide the league winners.
In Qualifying Four, runaway league leaders Ophir are involved in Gordon West Cup action as the Divisions sole representative. With the potential of a second team being promoted into Qualifying Three the contest between Cavan and Virginia to finish runners up will hot up over the coming weeks.
Ballymoney(5th) v UUC(10th)
Neil Beddow and Jason Taggart will have been pleased their players came through a testing league game with Donaghadee last Sat to win 11-5. The Kilraughts side want a top four finish with the opportunity to play in the AIL Junior Cup one of their goals. They also have a challenging Towns Cup Quarter Final at Eaton Park against an inform Ballymena seconds on the 22nd Feb to play. They have won their last three games and would be expected to pick up maximum points against UUC this weekend. The students remain without a win after thirteen league games. When the two sides met in October at the Riverside, Ballymoney won 23-15. Ballymoney to win
CIYMS(6th) v Coleraine(7th)
Seven points separate these two sides with Coleraine having a game in hand. Coleraine remain undefeated in their last five league and Cup games. CIYMS have lost their last four league games against CV, Portadown and Bangor(2). Both sides have the talent in their playing squads to be sitting in the top four of the league. Coleraine will look a win before they take on Clogher Valley at Rugby Avenue next Sat in the Towns Cup. CI have a difficult McCrea Cup game with the undefeated Queens seconds next weekend. Crucial fixture this weekend for both sides. When the two sides met at Coleraine in October, CIYMS ran out 32-25 winners. Coleraine to win
Cooke(8th) v Bangor(3rd)
A win is crucial for both sides as Cooke look to move away from the bottom of the table with Bangor looking to consolidate their third place in the league. With Cooke’s neighbours, Instonians involved in an important AIL game at Shawsbridge, there will be much interest in the performance of the two sides on Sat. Could we see both these clubs being relegated this season. Bangor to win
Donaghadee(9th) v Clogher Valley(1st)
The North Down side have lost their last four league games albeit by small margins. Their last league win was at home to neighbours Bangor 22-19 on the 7th Dec. They have a tough Towns Cup Quarter Final with the inform Omagh at Donaldson Park on the 22nd Feb. Again like Cooke they will be looking to avoid finishing second bottom in the league. When these two sides met at the Cran in October, CV ran out comfortable 37 – 8 winners. Clogher Valley will remember the 38-0 defeat they suffered in the league when they last visited Donaldson Park in March 2013. Clogher Valley have the league title in their sights and will not want a repeat performance. They bounced back from their AIL Junior Cup loss to defeat CIYMS 41 – 8 last Sat, scoring six tries in the process. Coaches Glen Kyle and Davy Black have a full squad to select from. Dee will be hoping that player coach Paul McKenzie will be fit to resume playing after being out for several weeks. Clogher Valley to win
Portadown(2nd) v Dromore(4th)
Another intriguing game down for decision this weekend with Dromore seeking to overturn a narrow 17 – 13 defeat at Barban Hill when the two sides met in October. Portadown have had four weeks off to recover from their 19-10 home defeat to league leaders Clogher Valley on the 18th Jan. Coaches Richard Hedley and Ciaran O’Kane have five league games left to consolidate their second place in the league. With inform CV showing no signs of slipping up during the run in, the current champions grip on the league title appears to have gone for this season. Dromore remain undefeated in their last five league games and coaches De wet Bekker and Jeremy Ogle will be looking their players to maintain this winning run. Portadown to win
Academy((3rd) v Carrickfergus(8th)
Alot at stake for both sides in this County Antrim derby, with Academy maintaining their push to finish in second place. Their game with Omagh at Roughfort on the 15th March will decide the runners up spot. When these two sides met at Carrick in November, Academy ran out comfortable winners 27 – 16. Carrick have underperformed this season and find themselves at the wrong end of Qualifying Two. Coach Warren McClean and Captain Andy Kinkead have much work to do with six games remaining to avoid getting caught up in a relegation battle. Academy to win
Ballyclare(1st) v Randalstown(5th)
Champions elect Ballyclare sent a strong message to the rest of the chasing pack when they defeated Grosvenor 40 -14 last Saturday . Winger Adam Wardrop was the star scoring five tries. Randalstown promised much before Xmas but successive defeats to Academy and Omagh have ruled them out of contention. This is the first meeting of the two sides this season. Coach Gary Longwell will be looking a response from his players. Expect a keenly contested Antrim derby at Cloughan on Sat. Ballyclare to win.
Limavady(9th) v Enniskillen(7th)
Four points separate these two sides in the bottom five of this league. Bottom side Strabane remain without a win from eleven league games, with the potential for two sides to be relegated this season. Every game and every point will be vital in the coming weeks. Limavady won a vital bottom of the table contest with Carrickfergus last Sat 11-5. This contest at the John Hunter Memorial Grounds has put pressure on both sides this weekend. Both sides have already met twice this season. Limavady winning a Junior Cup match at Mullaghmeen in Sept 20-10. When the two sides met at the same location in November, Enniskillen ran out 23 – 17 winners. Limavady’s remaining matches include games against Ballyclare, Academy and Omagh. Limavady to win
Virginia(3rd) v Armoy(7th)
Armoy have already conceded games with Virginia on the 9th Nov and the 14th Dec. They also conceded their game with Cavan on the 25th Jan. Virginia last played a game on the 11th Jan when they won 26 – 19 at Stormont against Civil Service. Armoy last played a league game on the 11th Jan when they lost 25 – 5 at BHSFP’s. With the outside chance of promotion by finishing second behind runaway leaders Ophir , there will be quite a contest between them and near neighbours Cavan over the coming weeks. Virginia to win.
BHSFP(4th) v Londonderry YMCA(6th)
When these two sides met at Drumahoe in January, High School ran out comfortable 19-0 winners. In their last league outing three weeks ago, High School lost 18-0 at Cavan. YMCA won their last league outing on the 18th January when defeated Civil Service 27-10 at Drumahoe. Belfast High School to win.