Qualifying league Preview Saturday 14th December 2013 by George Millar

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No fixtures in Qualifying One this weekend due to the All Ireland Junior Cup semi finals. In Qualifying Two Ballyclare remain out in front on 32 points. Four points ahead of their nearest rivals Randalstown with a game in hand. Both these sides were due to meet at Nelisbrook Park this weekend. With Ballyclare due to meet Ballynahinch seconds in the Junior Cup final at Ravenhill next Tuesday the 17th December, the Ulster Branch competitions committee under the chairmanship of Denis Gardiner took the decision following an appeal from Ballyclare to postpone their league game at Randalstown on Saturday. It would have been unfair on Ballyclare to have to play a crucial league game four days before the Junior Cup final. Thanks must also go to Randalstown rugby club for the pragmatic approach they took to Ballyclare’s predictament. Rugby being the winner between the two clubs. With Ballynahinch seconds having rested for two weeks the Junior Cup final would have been devalued if both clubs were not given sufficient time to prepare for this game. Are any of the pursuing pack able to close the ground on Ballyclare this weekend. Academy 1st xv who are in third place – six points behind Ballyclare travel to Enniskillen this weekend. A win for Academy would allow them to go into next weekends league fixture at Ballyclare knowing a win would push the ‘White Hare’ team from top position in the league. Omagh in fourth place – eight points behind Ballyclare with a game in hand on Randalstown and Academy will be looking maximum points from their travels to Lisburn this weekend. Can Enniskillen mount a late challenge to join the promotion contenders.

Enniskillen v Academy

Alot at stake for both sides in this game. Ex Academy coach Alastair McKee has been rebuilding the fortunes of the Fermanagh club. Three wins have moved them into fifth place. Academy coaches Gareth Lynn and Davy Haslett will be looking to persuade their influential no 8 Chris McCarey to travel for this game. He scored three tries in their last league outing at home to Limavady. Captain Richard Press will be looking to the experience of his Ulster Junior contingent and their strong running centre John Kelly to take maximum points at Mullaghmeen. Enniskillen have been strenghtened by the return of key forwards Gavin Warrington and Gavin Parke in the backrow. They have found an established half back pairing in scrum half and Captain Ricky Connor and outhalf Alan Wilkinson. Difficult game to call. Academy may just have that experience to win. Sure to attract a large crowd.

Grosvenor v Strabane

Luckless Limavady lost 55 – 15 to the East Belfast side at Belmont last Saturday. For Strabane that first league win eludes them. Their pack have been competitive but the Tyrone side dont have the backs to score points. Grosvenor to win

Lisburn v Omagh

The Blaris side have not won a league game since they beat Enniskil;len 20 – 0 at home on the 26th October 2013. They have lost their last two league games to Enniskillen 19 – 10 and home to Randalstown 25 – 12. From being considered potential promotion contenders they have slipped down the table. They will find the task no easier against a well drilled Omagh side who still have promotion ambitions. Their coach Phil Marshall will hope to welcome back hooker Mervyn Edgar for this game. The return of Stuart McCain at out half has provided experience in this key position. Captain Andrew Ferguson will be looking maximum points from this game. Omagh to win

Qualifying Three

The league appears to be a two horse race between Holywood and Larne for that all important promotion place. Can teams including Donegal and Newry halt their progress.

Larne v Lurgan

After a weekend off Larne coach Laurence Kelly will look to keep the pressure on promotion favourites Holywood who have no game this weekend. His side would expect to win this game comfortably. In recent weeks Lurgan won their first game against Civil Service in the Gordon West Cup 41 – 10 and fought out an impressive 34 – 34 draw with Donegal in their last league outing. Larne to win

Monaghan v Donegal Town

This will be a fascinating game as Monaghan appear to have found some form after defeating Letterkenny 12 – 5 last Saturday to move off bottom place in the league. Donegal Town will have been disappointed by their performance in the high scoring scoring draw at Lurgan. The West Coast side cannot afford to drop any more points in their push for promotion. Donegal to win

Newry v Letterkenny

Another intriguing game at the South Down venue. Despite putting up an impressive performance at home to Holywood last Saturday they still lost 34 – 15. The Newry side have demonstrated the potential they have in the side this season. Newry won 11 – 9 at the North Donegal venue four weeks ago. Expect this game to be keenly contested. Newry to win.

Qualifying Four

Ophir remain clear leaders in this league with no potntial challengers amongst the chasing pack.

Londonderry YMCA v Cavan

It has been a difficult season for Willy Lamrock and his North West side. A creditable 23 – 8 defeat at leaders Ophir last Saturday may give his side some encouragement for the remainder of the season. Cavan did impress last Saturday in their 41 – 5 win at Civil Service and their 20 – 13 win at BHSFP. Can YMCA win their first league game of the season.Their only league point came from a 17 – 17 draw at Civil Service. Cavan won their home league match with YMCA 7 – 6. Cavan would have to be favourites.

Ophir v Civil Service.

The Stormont side promised so much this season but have struggled in the league. Ophir won the away game at Civil Service 18 – 0 in October. They are a free scoring side with scrum half and Captain Karl Davis leading from the front. Ophir to win

Virginia v Armoy

The Cavan side were considered serious promotion challengers until Ophir beat them 46 – 5 two weeks ago. This was followed up by a 17 – 5 lost at BHSFPs last Saturday. Armoy are still awaiting their first league points of the season. Cavan to win

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