Qualifying League Preview Saturday 7th December 2013 by George Millar

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Must congratulate Ballyclare and Ballynahinch seconds on reaching the Final of the Junior Cup at Ravenhill on Tuesday the 17th December 2013. Something will have to give as the two sides remain undefeated this season. Both sides will have a free weekend this week. Ballyclare are then involved in three games within eight days as they play Randalstown in the league on 14th December followed by Ballynahinch seconds on the 17th Dec and Academy in the league on the 21st December. Ballynahinch seconds were due to play Portadown 1st xv in the Conference league on the 14th December. This game will have to be rearranged as Portadown have an All Ireland Junior Cup semi final away to Enniscorthy on the same date. Ballyclare’s playing squad will be fully tested during this period.

It is a return to Qualifying One action this weekend after a two week break for title contenders Bangor and CIYMS. Their nearest rivals Clogher Valley, Portadown and Ballymoney have been involved in All Ireland Junior Cup action and the Ulster Junior Cup. It will be interesting to see if the approach by CIYMS (Not competing in the Junior Cup and knocked out of the All Ireland Junior Cup) and Bangor (Early exit from Junior Cup)will help their playing squads in the coming months as they push for promotion. Clogher Valley will also have an All Ireland Junior Cup tie away to Skibbereen on the 14th December. The push for the top four looks to be between Clogher Valley, Portadown, Bangor, CIYMS and Ballymoney. Coleraine, Donaghadee, Dromore and Cooke will look to push away from the bottom half of the league.

Qualifying One

Ballymoney v CIYMS

Neil Beddow will have been disappointed that his side lost out in an epic cup tie at Kilraughts Road last Saturday by 19 -13 to the unbeaten Ballynahinch seconds. He will look to use this performance to dent the promotion hopes of the East Belfast side. Bangor lost 20 – 13 at this venue to Ballymoney four weeks ago. The County Antrim side have talent throughout their side and a hard working forward unit led by number 8 Jonny Hanna. CI Captain Stuart Ferguson has plenty of experience in his side. Number 8 Ross Hackney needs a big performance if his side are to take all four points from this venue. Expect another noisey and vociferous crowd to get behind the Ballymoney side. Ballymoney to win

Clogher Valley v Cooke

There will have been a relief that the Fivemiletown side had a weekend off after a relentless programme of fixtures that started on the 10th August. For the top Qualifying sides they need a large playing squad if they are going to compete in all competitions. Coaches Davy Black and Glen Kyle have been very astute in the management of their playing resources this season as they push for League and All Ireland Junior Cup success. Any thoughts Colin Atkinson and his squad have on Clogher not focusing on this game can be dispelled straight away. Clogher will go all out to win. Cooke have demonstrated in recent performances they have the talent with the Gourlay brothers presenting a major threat to any side if given ball. Clogher to win

Coleraine v Dromore

The convincing manner in which Ballyclare swept aside Coleraine’s challenge last Saturday will have focused the minds of the North Coast side as they look to gather points. Dromore will present a stern challenge despite a whopping 48 – 10 defeat at home to Clogher Valley two weeks ago. Dromore had promised more as they moved into the top five. They lost narrowly 11 – 9 at CIYMS. Dromore to win

Donaghadee v Bangor

With the Rodney Gray Cup up for grabs in this match expect a large crowd at Donaldson Park for this fiesty encounter. Matches between the two North Down Clubs are always keenly contested. Bangor have promotion as their goal this season and sit comfortably in third place with a game in hand. The contest between the two Captains Jamie Clegg and Alastair Lockhart will ensure nothing less than 100% is given by both teams. The Dee maybe struggling this season but pride will drive them on as they will want the prize scalp of their near neighbours. Bangor know this is a game they cannot afford to lose after slipping up at Ballymoney. There are contests all over the park with the meeting of Bangor’s Jason Morgan and the Dee’s player coach Paul McKenzie in the middle of the park sure to set the tone for this most appetizing derby. The two backrows will again be eagerly contested with the Dee’s Chris Hamilton, David Murray and Richard Martindale trading with Bangor’s Jamie Clegg and Curtis Stewart. Donaghadee to win

UUC v Portadown

Coach Richard Hedley will ensure his Portadown side are fully focused on this game as they continue their push for league honours. The students are a dangerous side on their home turf. Portadown forwards have the experience to strangle the students up front. The return of several key players in recent weeks has strengthened the playing squad available to the Portadown coach. He will have one eye on the All Ireland Junior Cup semi final at Enniscorthy the following week. One point separates his side from Clogher Valley. They will be looking maximum points from this game.
Portadown to win

Qualifying Two

Ballyclare have a weekend off and sit six points ahead of nearest rivals Academy with a game in hand. It is by no means a clear run in for the White Hare side with Academy, Randalstown and Omagh still holding hopes of overhauling the East Antrim side.

Carrickfergus v Omagh

With the pressure increasing on his Omagh side, coach Phil Marshall is well aware his team pushed Ballyclare close in losing 21 – 16 two weeks ago. They sit twelve points behind Ballyclare with one game in hand. The trip to Antrim to face a rejuvenated Carrick side will be difficult as they pushed Ballyclare all the way in a narrow defeat. After losing to Academy they bounched back with an impressive 19 – 13 win at Grosvenor last Sat. They have match winners with the Impressive Aaron McKinney putting in another man of the match performance. Carrick to win

Enniskillen v Lisburn

The Blaris side had their promotion hopes halted by a Randalstown side who recorded a 25 – 12 win at Lisburn last Saturday. Enniskillen have moved up to fifth place after two wins over North West sides Limavady and Strabane. Skins Captain Ricky Connor will want this run to continue as they build momentum for the Towns Cup. Enniskillen to win

Grosvenor v Limavady

On paper you would expect a Grosvenor win. Limavady demonstrated last Saturday they have the personnel to upset the odds as they pushed Academy all the way at Roughfort before losing 28 – 21. Grosvenor have disappointed this season. Difficult game to call. Grosvenor to win

Strabane v Randalstown

The Antrim side have quietly slipped into promotion contention and will look to take all five points on their visit to the North West. Coach Gary Longwell has a important game coming up with Ballyclare the following week. His side cannot afford to be complacent as Strabane have provided stiff opposition at their home venue. Randalstown are well organised and have impressed opposition sides in the league this season. Randalstown to win

Qualifying Three

Monaghan V Letterkenny

Monaghan sit bottom of the league and will look to take both points from this meeting of the two sides. Letterkenny have impressed at home this season and pushed Donegal all the way before losing. Letterkenny to win

Newry v Holywood

The North Down side will have to be at the top of their game if they are to take the points from this match. Newry sit fourth in the table and have provided stiff opposition for all their opponents this season. In their last league game they won 11 – 9 at Letterkenny. Larne had to work extremely hard to win 23 – 10 at Newry four weeks ago. Expect a good crowd for this game as Newry continue to make a mark in this league. Holywood to win

Qualifying Four

BHSFP v Virginia

The Greenisland side have shown indifferent form this season and sit fifth in the league. Virginia were in contention for the league until they met title favourites Ophir last Saturday and lost 46 – 5. Virginia put up a gutsy performance and were in contention up until half time. High School lost 19 – 12 to Civil Service at Stormont last Saturday. Expect the County Cavan side to take the points. High School won the away fixture at Virginia 15 – 9 in September.

Civil Service v Cavan

The Stormont side won the correponding fixture at Cavan 12 – 0 in September. Service got back to winning ways after defeating High School 19 – 12 last Saturday. Civil Service to win

Ophir V Londonderry YMCA

The North West side have one point from four league outings. Ophir continue to impress in the league and Gordon West Cup. Their 46 – 5 win over nearest rivals Virginia last Saturday makes them clear favourites for promotion to Qualifying Three. They have talent in abundance through out the squad with their half backs of Carl Davis and James Milligan continuing to control games. Second row forwards Kenny Morton and Neil Grey play key roles in the forwards. Ophir to win.

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