Featured

Welcome To The Back Of The Stand

This is the post excerpt.

Hi there folks and welcome to the Back Of The Stand. My name is Paul and like most people I have a great passion for sport, particularly GAA and rugby. On here you will find various match reports and thoughts that I have on current issues not just in the world of GAA and rugby, but also other sports.

As the site is called Back Of The Stand, I thought that the only way to start the blog is to post a picture of myself sitting in the world famous Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Here I am not quite at the Back Of The Stand, but in the VIP box on the half way line. This iconic arena has played host to various soccer finals including the 2006  World Cup Final, 2015 Champions League final and of course the 1936 Olympic Games.

I hope you enjoy the blog and my posts, and feel free to comment on issues. Remember, it’s ‘Good To Talk’. 

Snow Joke For Limavady At The Toon 

Kukri Rugby Championship Section 2

Ballymoney 45 Limavady 12

Ballymoney survived an early scare to climb to second spot in Championship Two with what eventually proved to be a comfortable win over a Limavady side that lacked the intensity levels of their hosts. It was another frustrating afternoon for Mark Nicholl and his team. Already down loose head Clive Scott, tight head prop Rory Squires cried off late due to a hamstring injury. After 20 minutes it was clear to see why the Head Coach has been left pulling his hair out. A terrific opening was followed by an equally poor period when weak defence let the hosts in for two tries. 

Played on a surface which may have suited the Belfast Giants, Limavady came roaring out of the blocks and attacked from the off. From a lineout Jack Elliott made the hard yards and from the next phase Peter Wilson put in Jamie Mo Millar for an early try. Out-half Wilson landed the conversion but missed one in the 9th minute as from another lineout Michael Rice touched down for another try. The Roesiders keeping the ball in the front eight for this one and driving over from five metres out. The form book was certainly being torn up by the Roesiders who have only recorded one win in the league so far. 
The home side did come roaring back and launched an all out assault on the Roesiders. Persistent pressure eventually led to second row James Bleakly scoring before out-half Rory Strang took advantage of some weak tackling from the Limavady backline for the Toon’s second try. It got even better on the half hour mark. Irvine and Moxen continued to make inroads and full back Andrew Young played a delightful one two with Matthew Steele to score under the posts. Again Rory Strang converted for a 19-12 lead and it was beginning to look like Ballymoney were going to run away with it.
Eventually Limavady got their hands on the ball and Peter Wilson put in a great kick into the Ballymoney 22 to put the home team under some pressure. They did put the light blues under pressure and won a succession of penalties and eventually Referee Robbie McGreer binned home prop Ian Moxen. Limavady continued to turn down the chance to take the three points electing instead to tap and go each time, but each time they came up against a mean home defence, and after failing to find a way through, Ballymoney turned the ball over and referee McGreer blew for half time with Ballymoney leading 19-12.
Finishing strongly to the first half and a man up, Limavady would’ve been hoping to keep the pressure up and get back on the offensive but Ballymoney had other ideas. The re-start went deep into the Limavady 22 and a penalty was won after an infringement from a Limavady forward. This time it was Ballymoney who turned down the option of kicking for goal as they elected to go for a scrum, and after driving the Limavady pack back, captain John McFetridge touched down for the bonus point try. 
The home side didn’t rest on their laurels and on 50 minutes scored their fifth try of the day. Matthew Blair was on hand to get in under the posts after more sustained pressure in the Limavady 22. Rory Strang converted for a 33-12 lead. To their credit, Limavady tried to force their way back into the game, but despite the best efforts of Roddy, Irvine, Mackey and Wilson, they came up against a very strong home defence that had learnt from their mistakes in the first 10 minutes. On 57 minutes Wilson tried to set Centre Elliott away but Strang read the pass to intercept and sprint clear from his own half to score his second try in the corner. The Limavady heads were down and with the final play of the game prop Matthew Blair crossed the line for his second try of the game. Rory Strang brought his personal tally for the day to 20 points when he landed his fifth conversion and capped off a fine team performance for The Toon that sees them move up to second place in the league. 
Score Of The Day
Jamie Mo Millar’s try in the third minute was well very well executed by the Roesiders. From one side of the 22 to the other in three phases from a lineout was just an example of what this Limavady team is capable. Andrew Young’s try for Ballymoney was just as well finished. Great play from the forwards and then he received a pass back from Matthew Steele to score from a pass that no one saw coming.
Turning Point
Chasing the game and trailing by seven points as the game approached half time, Limavady were awarded a series of penalties in front of the Ballymoney posts. Each time they choose to tap and go. Eventually a strong Ballymoney defence turned them over and cleared their lines to not only go in at seven points ahead at the break, but also gain the initiative to start the second half in the ascendancy. Three easy points at that stage for the visitors and it would’ve been a different half time team talk. 
Man Of The Match
An easy one to pick here. The Ballymoney grounds staff. Only three games took place in the province today and they could’ve taken an easy decision to postpone the match. But a rallying call was made and the pitch was cleared and was declared suitable late Saturday morning. 
What Next?
Ballymoney
Ballymoney don’t have a league fixture again until the 13th January when they go Academy. They do have two Conference fixtures and a Towns Cup tie beforehand. Banbridge and Malone’s second strings will provide stern tests while a cup match against Larne will certainly excite the Kilraughts Road faithful. Head Coach Johnny Hanna will be hoping that the lads don’t overindulge over the festive period to keep the momentum going and not spoil the good work that has been done so far this season. 
Limavady
The Roesiders also face the second strings of Banbridge and Malone over the next few weeks. The fixture against Banbridge is a Towns Cup fixture but next weeks game at home to Ards would be the bigger of their next three games. They still sit three points above the automatic relegation spot. What they also need is to get a few of their more experienced players fit and back on the field. They also need to work on their defensive side as Ballymoney more than once found gaps in the Limavady rearguard. 
Teams
Ballymoney: Matthew Blair, Peter Irvine, Andy Brown, James Bleakly, Michael Allan, John McFetridge Capt, David McKeeman, Daniel Ramage, Matthew Steele, Rory Strang, Matthew Bell, Martin Irwin, Aaron Brown, Neil Johnston, Andrew Young.
Replacements: Ian Moxen & Andrew Stevenson.
Limavady: Alan Wilson, Adam Miller, John McCollum, Colin Henry, Michael Rice, Sam Mackey, Perry Semple, Daniel Irvine, Jamie Millar, Peter Wilson Capt, Stewart Roddy, Jamie Mo Millar, Jack Elliott, Jack Connor, Graham McAleese.
Replacements: Luke Montgomery & Mike Cahill.
Referee Mr Robbie McGreer
In the only other game in Championship Two Larne suffered a rare home defeat as they went down 29-12 to Academy at The Glynn. The North Belfast outfit put in a tremendous display in the poor conditions to come away with a great bonus point win to see them go fourth in the table.

Only one one game survived the elements in Championship Three. Donaghadee made the long journey from North Down to County Donegal to face Letterkenny and just about came away with the win. 15-10 was the final score at Dave Gallacher Park in a game that could’ve gone either way. Letterkenny had their chances to win this one as their battle with Civil Service at the bottom of the table hots up. 

Weekend Junior Rugby Preview 

Kukri Championship Section 2

 With leaders Grosvenor and second place Randalstown both in Conference league action on Saturday, the rest of the sides in Championship Two have a chance to make some ground on the top two. Ballymoney in particular will see this as a great opportunity to get back into the promotion as they have Limavady at Kilraughts Road. The North Antrim side got back to winning ways last week following their junior cup exit to Armagh 2nds by seeing off the PSNI at Newfordge. They ran in five tries in a convincing display to keep up their excellent league form. Only the top two have managed to get the better of Ballymoney this season as they continue to impress in their return to junior rugby’s middle league. A win over the Roesiders will see them go second, but also having played two more games than their East Antrim rivals. But that would be taking Saturday’s result for granted. While Mark Nicholl will be frustrated not to have picked up more wins so far after last season’s fourth place finish they have shown in the past that they can go anywhere and preform. Take last season’s win away to CIYMS for example. A tremendous defensive display topped off by three attacks which yielded three tries. If the real Limavady turn up then this could be quite a contest, if not, then the scoreboard will have a similar look as to that when they met in the junior cup in October.

Ards appear to be a team rejuvenated. A thumping win over Academy three weeks ago was followed up by giving leaders Grosvenor a fright last Saturday in Gibson Park. The North Down All Blacks losing by just a single point. Struggling PSNI are the visitors to Hamilton Park. The PSNI have found the going tough this season with player availability continuing to hamper any chance of consistency in both team selection and performances. This should be another home win as Ards look to continue their climb up the table. Home advantage will be a big factor for Larne as they welcome Academy to the Glynn. At home they have managed to run both Grosvenor and Ballynahinch 2nds very close. Academy are another team that has shown little consistency this season. A bad beating at Ards was followed up by a narrow win at home to relegation threatened Lisburn. Larne’s good home form should continue with another win.

 Blaris will stage the biggest game of the day between seventh placed Lisburn and bottom of the table UUC. Just five points separate these two and a win for Lisburn would create some breathing space for them while putting the North-West students under some severe pressure. Lisburn’s only other win came against fellow strugglers PSNI while the ‘Uni’s only victory was in Limavady. Another side struggling near the bottom of the league. Those four points collected that day are the only points collected thus far while Lisburn have been able to collect a few bonus points in defeat along the way, like in last weeks defeat to Academy. Lisburn won this corresponding fixture last season in similar circumstances and they should do this this Saturday.

Conference Two Fixtures.

Malone 2nds v Randalstown. Thursday 7th December. 7.30pm.

Ballymena 2nds v Grosvenor. 

Omagh 2nds v Banbridge 2nds.  

Kukri Championship Section 3

 Its advantage Lurgan in the title race in Championship Three after last weeks 12-10 win over fellow contenders Donaghadee. The Pollock Park side are now six points clear of the Dee at the halfway stage having won all of their eleven games to date. They now hold a six point lead over their nearest challengers, but they still have to travel to Strabane, where they lost last year, before going to Donaghadee on the final day, so plenty of rugby to be played yet. Belfast High School Former Pupils are next in the firing line for the league leaders and this should be another home win for Lurgan. Donaghadee should get back to winning ways when they visit Letterkenny, but they should expect a tougher encounter on Saturday than they did on the first day of the season. 

Strabane have shown a bit more consistency this season and sit comfortably in third place. Their only defeats coming against the two teams above them. After digging out a win in Cavan last week they are on the road again with a run to Holywood. The Tyrone side have had the upper hand in recent league meetings and they should continue to hold the upper hand against the North Down side on Saturday. 

All games on Saturday will have a 2.30pm kick off. 

Dromore’s Winning Run Crashes At The Bridge 

Kukri Rugby Championship Section 1

Cooke 14 Dromore 8

Cooke scored a much needed win at Shaws Bridge against Dromore on Saturday afternoon to blow open the race for All-Ireland Cup spots. An away win for the in form County Down side could’ve seen them open up a nine point gap between themselves and their South Belfast hosts, but a spirited defensive display in the second half saw Cooke hold on for a deserved win.

The home side started the brighter and were keen to run the ball at every opportunity. Their adventurous style of play was rewarded in the 7th minute when Kyle Mitchell’s pass skipped Philip Cartmill and hit winger Andrew Pollock. The blonde haired flyer still had plenty of work to do as he raced in to the Dromore 22. With McDonald and McClearn covering a chip over the top of the Dromore defence looked to be dealt with by Steenson, but the bounce of the ball deceived the covering scrum-half and fell kindly for Pollock to touchdown. Alan Gourley made no mistake with the conversion. Dromore fought back and almost got in for a score of their own six minutes later from a lineout but a great defensive effort led by Alex Gourley and Jonathan Walsh kept the visitors at bay. 

Things got better for the hosts on 25 minutes when they doubled their lead to 14-0. Strong runs from McClune, Alex Gourley and Mitchell forced Dromore into conceding a penalty which they kicked to the corner. From the lineout Liam Bennett got the touchdown after a rolling maul. Again Alan Gourley made no mistake from the conversion. Dromore fought their way back into the contest on the half hour mark following some scrappy play from both sides on half way. A Steenson box kick was contested by McClearn and Cregan and with no one able to secure the ball, Steenson pounced to kick through and show some fine soccer skills to beat the covering Nelson to score Dromore’s first try of the day in the corner. His conversion into the breeze just dropped short and at the break Cooke led 14-05.

Dromore came a different side in the second half and led by flanker Adam McGregor, skipper Jonny Maguire and second row Matthew McMaster they continually ran at the home defence. Credit to the Cooke defence who set their stall out to frustrate the visitors and great defence again denied Dromore a second try right at the start of the second half. Frustrations did come to boiling point in the 46th minute and referee Mitchell issued yellow cards to Cookes’s Andrew Quigley and Dromore’s Matthew McMaster. 

Dromore were eventually given an avenue to get back into the game on the hour mark but Steenson’s penalty came back off the post much to the relief and surprise of those in attendance. At this point both sides were back to the full complement of fifteen players, but another yellow card saw Cooke back to fourteen after 62 minutes. Philip Cartmill feeling the wrath of Referee Mitchell for a high tackle. Eventually Dromore got some reward for their dominance when out-half Aaron Stewart slotted over a penalty on 67 minutes. 

Dromore continued to run the ball at a tiring home defence but some great tackling from Flavelle and Cregan kept the visitors at bay. The titanic defensive effort began to take it’s toll though and Cooke lost Callum Robinson to an injury in the 70th minute, and with no substitutes left, had to see the game out with 14 players. With one last throw of the dice Dromore attacked down the Cooke left but more great tackling saw a knock on from the visitors and Lee Steenson picked up a yellow card for a lunging tackle with his foot as frustrations began to show. From the resulting penalty Gourley kicked to touch and clinch a deserved victory.

A frustrating day for Dromore who despite the best efforts of McClearn and McDonald just couldn’t breach a watertight home defence in which Kyle Mitchell and Jonathan Walsh were exceptional, as was loose head Jonathan McClune who also carried well for the home team. 

Teams

Cooke: Jonathan McClune, Curtis Montgomery, Deaglan McErlean, Andrew Quigley, Matthew Carothers, Alex Gourley (Capt), Callum Robinson, Jonathan Walsh, Ryan Flavelle, Alan Gourley, Andrew Pollock, Kyle Mitchell, Philip Cartmill, Andrew Nelson, Colm Cregan.

Replacement: Liam Bennett, Jonathan Backus.

Dromore: Mark Hylands, Fraser Mulholland, Clarkson McLeod, Matthew McMaster, Ross Bingham, Blair McDonald, Adam McGregor, Jonny Maguire (Capt), Lee Steenson, Aaron Stewart, Andrew Rutledge, Graeme McCandless, Michael Allen, Brian McClearn, Adam McDonald.

Replacements: Stuart Sloan, Aaron McKinstry.

Referee: Mr Andrew Mitchell

This win lifts Cooke up to fifth at the expense of CIYMS who lost heavily at home to Instonians. After Carrick’s surprise loss in Clogher Inst move into second position seven points adrift of leaders Ballyclare who saw off Portadown. Enniskillen remain in the relegation mix after losing 15-5 in Coleraine. 

The next round of fixtures will take place on Saturday 16th December and will see CIYMS host Cooke, Dromore entertain Coleraine, Instonians will welcome Portadown to Shaws Bridge and Enniskillen will have home advantage against Clogher Valley in a huge bottom of the table clash. 

Weekend Junior Rugby Preview

There’s a full programme of games this weekend in the Kukri Rugby Championship with a number of key fixtures in each section. In section 1 Ballyclare will be looking to stay ahead of the chasing pack while Coleraine will look to move further away from the relegation zone following their excellent victory over Cooke two weeks ago. Grosvenor are aiming to finish the calendar year unbeaten and should, while Ballymoney will be looking to get back to winning ways following their cup defeat to Armagh 2nds last week.

The big game of the weekend is in Pollock Park Lurgan where the the top two put their unbeaten records on the line while at the other end, a win for Civil Service could see them all but condemn Donegal Town to the junior ranks for next season. 

Kukri Rugby Championship 
Section 1
Ballyclare take on Portadown at The Cloughan and will be expected to claim a win against the Mid-Ulster Blues. The Doagh outfit currently hold a six point lead over second placed Carrick following a bonus point win over Enniskillen two weeks ago. Carrick on the other hand will be expected to claim full points against Clogher Valley and keep their noses ahead of Instonians who lay one point behind Carrick in third spot. The Shaws Bridge side do have the advantage of having played a game less. Instonians will start as favourites when they kick off against CIYMS at Belmont Road but can expect a tough afternoon against the Black N’ White’s from the other side of South Belfast. At Shaws Bridge in form Dromore take on Cooke. After ending Instonians unbeaten start to the season the County Down side have kicked on after a slow start and find themselves in fourth spot and favourites for an All-Ireland cup spot. Two weeks ago they ended another unbeaten start to the season when Ballynahinch 2nds left Barban Hill with their tails between their legs. Cooke are also in the mix for a top four finish but a heavy defeat to Coleraine last day out has seen them fall to sixth place. Another home reverse could see their top four aspirations all but end, even at this early stage. Coleraine will take much heart from that win at Shaws Bridge two weeks ago and with Enniskillen the visitors to Rugby Avenue this weekend, the homeside will be odds on favourites to claim back to back wins and move well away from the relegation zone.

Section 2
Grosvenor still sit at the summit of Section 2 and so far no one looks like stopping them. Ards are next in the firing line at Gibson Park and anything other than a convincing home win will be a surprise. After giving a great account of themselves last week against a strong Armagh second string in the junior cup, Ballymoney travel to Newforge to play the PSNI and will be looking to get to winning ways against the A side that was promoted along with them last season. The PSNI have only recorded one win this season and sit second from bottom. It was always going to be a tough season for the Police and things won’t get any easier on Saturday either. At Roughfort, Academy will be hoping for a better outcome than their last league outing when they take on Lisburn. A 57-12 reverse in Ards was a result that not many saw on the horizon. A defeat against Lisburn on home turf could see them being dragged into a relegation scrap. Home advantage should see them get back to winning ways, but this may be a tighter encounter than many expect.
Section 3 
There’s no doubt where the big game of the day is in Section 3. Lurgan welcome second place Donaghadee to Pollock Park with both sides putting their unbeaten seasons on the line. Lurgan do hold a three point advantage as they have picked up more bonus point wins than their North Down counterparts. Lurgan survived a testing tussle against Monaghan last week and despite not picking up a bonus point win for the first time this season, Coach Bruce Cornelius would have been delighted to come through a tough encounter and to keep the winning run going. Previously Lurgan have never lived up to their potential and would’ve fallen short on their trips to places like Monaghan. The Dee have came through some turbulent times in recent seasons. Towns Cup finalists a few seasons back was followed by consecutive relegations. This season has been all about rebuilding and enticing former players back home. Up until now it’s been a case of so far, so good. After a few close battles they went on a scoring spree last week and ran in 11 tries against Belfast High School Former Pupils. Lurgan have always been known for their big dominating packs and they will relish coming up against another seasoned forward eight from the Dee. Out wide is where the Dee could cause damage and if they can get the ball to the likes of Rory Graham, Chris Scott and Davy McBride then it could be the North Down side that leave Pollock Park the happier on Saturday.

Third place Strabane face a tricky day on Saturday with a long trip to play a Cavan side that had a great win in Holywood last week. Strabane are one of the few sides that carry their home form into their away games and with experience in their ranks in the form of ex City of Derry player Phil Duffy, it might just be a fruitful journey for the Tyrone side. After claiming their first win of the season last week against fellow strugglers Letterkenny, Civil Service will be hoping to put the sword into bottom placed club Donegal Town. Donegal are currently 16 points off eleventh placed Service and an away win for the Stormont based club will all but seal a return to the junior leagues for Donegal Town and set up a duel with Letterkenny to avoid a relegation play-off. Letterkenny host Monaghan and going on current form, that looks like an away win. 

The two remaining ties should see closely fought home victories for Belfast High School Former Pupils and Newry over Holywood and Virginia respectively.
All games kick off at 2.30pm with Cavan v Strabane kicking off at 1.30pm.
Conference fixtures.
There is a Junior Cup Final dress rehearsal as Ballynahinch 2nds and Armagh 2nds square up against each other in the only Conference 1 fixture of the day. An away win will see the Orchard side take control of this division.
In Conference 2 UUC host Malone 2nds at 2pm while at 2.30pm Banbridge 2nds play Larne, Limavady will host Omagh 2nds and Randalstown host neighbours Ballymena 2nds in what is likely to be a feisty affair. 

Slaughtneil And Ireland Aim To Continue Winning Runs

Slaughtneil To Give Gaels The Blues

Cavan Gaels are next in the firing line for Ulster Club Champions Slaughtneil as this years competition reaches its climax in Armagh’s Athletic Grounds on Sunday afternoon. Throw in at 3pm. The famous Armagh City venue has been the scene for many a famous day for the Derry champions in recent times and this coming Sunday it’s hard to see anything but another victory for the Robert Emmetts.

It’s hard to believe that it’s 40 years since the Gaels from Cavan Town were last in the provincial showpiece. They have dominated the landscape of Cavan football for what seems an eternity and have been the backbone of many a Cavan County team. They also will look back at running teams like Crossmaglen, St Galls and Ballinderry close when they were also at the peak of their powers. They will also take heart from a recent encounter against Sunday’s opposition. A 2014 quarter final in Owenbeg almost saw The  Breffni Blues snatching a dramatic win at the death after staging a remarkable second half comeback. Slaughtneil hung thanks to a stunning first half, and went on to win their first Ulster title. Another ‘what could’ve been’ story for the cavan men.
Part of the Slaughtneil success story has been put down to an almost non-existent injury list. Huge credit must go to their management team and fitness coaches as well as the players themselves, but Sunday will see three names missing from their team sheet that would normally be mainstays. The industrious Meehaul McGrath (broken jaw), the ever reliable Cormac O’Doherty (hamstring) will join Paul Bradley on the injured list. The latter having missed the entire campaign due to a back injury.  

In their semi-final replay the Gaels needed five goals to squeeze past Derrygonnelly. Not much of a surprise considering it’s a forward unit that contains the likes of Michael Lyng, Sean Johnston and Martin Dunne, but they are coming up against a defensive unit that doesn’t shift too many majors. They have only conceded four gials in the last two years of championship football. Patsy Bradley continues to perform heroically in the middle of the park while Shane and Sè McGuigan give Christopher a helping hand in keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Barry Fortune and his defensive unit will have a tough afternoon keeping those three at bay as well as dealing with the surging runs of Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers. 

Slaughtneil with still a strong panel at their disposal and loads of big game experience to call upon, Sunday evening should see the Robert Emmetts lift their third Ulster football title in four years. 

Joe Goes For Three In A Row

Tomorrow afternoon at the Aviva Stadium Ireland will aim to make it three wins from three in the 2017 Guinness Autumn Series against old foes Argentina. After their last encounter in Cardiff in the 2015 World Cup many called for new blood to be introduced as well as a more attacking approach to their play. That Sunday afternoon in Cardiff a knackered and injury hit Ireland were run ragged by the Pumas so on Saturday we will see what lessons have been learnt. Joe Schmidt has used almost 50 players since then as he continues to build towards the next World Cup. Tomorrow he introduces James Ryan to the International arena while Chris Farrell gets another chance to impress due to an injury to Robbie Henshaw. Ryan’s Leinster teammate Adam Byrne also gets a first start on the wing which sees Andrew Conway drop to the bench. Ryan’s second row partnership with Iain Henderson is one that I am looking forward to. Both dynamic and great ball carriers. Byrne is another exciting prospect that helped the Ireland under 20’s reach the 2016 World Cup Final. A team that was captained by Ryan. He may have plenty to work on his defensive game, but there is no doubting his attacking capabilities. 

Ireland should be able to see out the first part of their competitive season unbeaten and take advantage of the long season that Los Pumas have had.  

Weekend Junior Rugby Preview 

Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup Semi-Finals

Ballymoney v City Of Armagh 2nds 
Kilraughts Road 2.30pm
Referee Mr Christopher Lough
Ballymoney fly the flag for the Rugby championship clubs on Saturday as they go into their semi-final against Armagh 2nds as the last junior club standing. The North Antrim side have been the surprise of the season so far only losing two games in Championship Two, while also raising a few eyebrows as they stormed their way to the semi-finals in three high scoring affairs. This is certainly bonus territory for the North Antrim side. Once a dominant force in Section 1, they are now well into their rebuilding program as they look to get back to the top table in junior rugby.

Last week they entertained Championship Two leaders Grosvenor and were on the wrong side of a 23-0 scoreline which suggests that despite their progress this season, they still have some bit to go. Armagh’s second string will provide an even sterner test on Saturday. The Men from Cathedral City are having an equally fine season and remain unbeaten. Their only blemish being a draw with Clogher Valley a few weeks back in a Conference One fixture. To reach this stage of the competition they easily saw off the challenge of the P.S.N.I. (45-0) before edging Ballyclare by six points in an absolute thriller. Coleraine were then deposed of at the Palace Grounds to set up this semi-final at Kilraughts Road.

Everyone will be expecting an away win here which won’t bother the hosts one bit. Sure they weren’t supposed to beat Banbridge in the last round and being written off, it only served to see them raise their game and cause an upset. To get the better of Armagh they will have to raise their game to another level, probably one which is out of their reach at this moment in time. In Rd 2 the top side in Championship One kept asking questions of the Orchard Men and each time they came back with an answer, and I would expect them to have plenty of answers to whatever questions that Ballymoney are going to ask on Saturday afternoon. Away win.

Ballynahinch 2nds (Holders) v Malone 2nds 
Ballymacarn Park 2.30pm
Referee Mr Richard Kerr
The second semi-final also on Saturday afternoon is a little more difficult to call. Holders Hinch would still be favourites but last weeks reverse to Dromore may have just given Malone some heart going into this battle. It will be interesting to see how the home side react to that defeat. Will it be a case of ‘beware of the wounded animal’ and a backlash for Malone, or will the heads drop if the Belfast side get off to a good start. 

After just creeping past Larne in Rd 1, a last minute drop goal saw off one of the cup favourites Instonians in Rd 2. In the quarter-finals Enniskillen were accounted for and another cup semi-final was booked for the County Down club. Malone’s run to the semi-finals saw them receive a bye in Rd1 before seeing off their Gibson Park tenants Grosvenor in Rd 2. Portadown were beaten 29-14 in a delayed quarter-final to set up a tilt at the holders. Malone did suffer an opening day reverse to Larne, but that result was later reversed in the boardroom. Malone will no doubt fancy their chances in this one but not only will Hinch learn from last weeks defeat, they will also have taken stock of their 1st XV defeat to Ballymena in last weeks Senior Cup semi-final, a week after recording a 27-0 victory against the same opposition. I suspect that there would’ve been a few harsh words said at training this week and I would expect to see a backlash from Hinch and for them to set up an all Senior club final against Armagh 2nds on December 21st. 

Kukri Championship Section 3
There is also a full programme of fixtures this week in Championship Three and it looks like being a two horse race for the one automatic promotion spot. Donaghadee and Lurgan have both recorded nine wins from nine games played, but the Mid-Ulster outfit lead the way by four points after nine bonus point victories. Both will be expected to get the better of their opponents this weekend to set up the first big battle between the two next week at Pollock Park.
This week the Dee will use home advantage to help get the better of Belfast High School Former Pupils while Lurgan will go to Monaghan for a much more tougher afternoon. After going off the boil for a couple of weeks Monaghan got back to winning ways away to Belfast High School  F.P. last week. Greenisland is never an easy place to get a win and they will be looking forward to welcoming the league leaders to Rafeenan.
Third place Strabane will be expected to record another home win against Newry, as will Virginia against lowly Donegal Town. Cavan haven’t travelled too well this season and the Gordon West Cup holders could face another tough afternoon on the road in Holywood. 
There is a big relegation battle taking place on Saturday as 11th place Civil Service welcome 10th place Letterkenny  to Stormont. Results and performances have improved for the Donegal side of late, but their form on the road continues to be abysmal. If they can bring their full squad to East Belfast on Saturday, then there is no reason why they couldn’t leave with a win and stay clear of 11th place and the end of season relegation play-off that comes with it. 
All these games also kick off at 2.30pm.

Weekend Junior Rugby Preview

Kukri Rugby Championship.

Ballyclare and Grosvneor look to consolidate the poistions at the top of their respectibe sections while Donaghadee aim to stay in touch with Lurgan in Section 3.

Section 1

With second placed Instonians in Conference league action, leaders Ballyclare will look to increase their lead at the top while at the other end Coleraine and Clogher Valley will look at their respective fixtures as season defining.

At Belmont CIYMS host bottom club Clogher Valley. A home win would leave the home team within touching distance of safety in their first season back in the top league, a defeat and they could well be dragged into a dog fight against the Tyrone side. Over in Shaws Bridge, Cooke are having a better season than their recent years. A home win here against Coleraine would leave the Bannsiders very much in that dogfight too.

League leaders Ballyclare saw their unbeaten start fall against Instonians in a cracking top of the table clash two weeks ago, but they still managed to pick up a losing bonus point which could prove crucial come the season’s end. They should get back to winning ways against struggling Enniskillen at Mullaghmeen. The remaining fixture at Chambers Park could be the closest game of the day. Carrick have progressed this year following on from their promotion two years ago and currently sit fourth and well in the hunt for an All-Ireland Cup spot. Portadown have picked up a bit of form after a slow start and home advantage might just help them claim another win in a tight contest.

Section 2

There’s only three games down for decision in section 2, but they all involve the top three sides. The big game is in Kilraughts Road where unbeaten league leaders Grosvenor travel to take on third placed Ballymoney. The North Antrim side remain in the promotion hunt after only coming up from section 3 and also have a Junior Cup semi-final to look forward to. Their only defeat was to Randalstown where they fell away in the final 20 minutes. Grosvenor on the other hand have coasted to victory in all their games. Last time out against Limavady they conceded an early try but then blew the Roesiders away with six of their own, and all before half time. The crowds have been coming back to ‘The Toon’ this season and Saturday is sure to see another big turnout. It was a big home support that helped them see off opposition like Banbridge 2nds in a tight Junior cup quarter-final and they will need that vocal support if they are to get anything from this contest. Grosvenor should keep their winning run going, but expect a fright or two from a plucky young Ballymoney side.

Second placed Randalstown will be expected to keep the heat on Grosvenor. They go to Coleraine to take on the students of UUC and Head Coach Gary Longwell would be expecting his troops to pick up the five points on offer against the bottom placed club. At the Glynn, Larne would be expected to get the better of visiting Limavady. Although games between the two sides at the East Antrim venue are usually close, the home side always seem to edge out their North Derry rivals here. The Roesiders are more than capable of getting a result here, but it all depends what sort of Limavady side turns up.

Section 3

League leaders Lurgan are inactive this weekend. The have taken the full quota from their nine games and sit nine points clear of second placed Donaghadee. The Dee will be expected to cut that margin this weekend against North Down neighbours Holywood at Donaldson Park. Strabane should pick up full points in Donegal Town and remain in third place and stay clear of a Monaghan side that has gone off the boil lately. A home loss to Cavan last Friday night wouldn’t have gone too well in the Farney County. Saturday’s encounter with Belfast High School Former Pupils will certainly be a real test of character for them in Greenisland. Newry will have noticed that fine win on the road by Cavan last week and they will need to be on their guard as the Breffni Men travel to Hilltown Road. In the sections other game, Letterkenny’s form has picked up in recent weeks and being at home they should account for Virginia.

Conference Fixtures

Section 1

Armagh 2nds v Instonians

Dromore v Ballynahinch 2nds

Section 2

Academy v Malone 2nds

Ballymena 2nds v Ards

Lisburn v Banbridge 2nds

Omagh 2nds v PSNI

All games kick off at 2.30pm with the exception of Donegal Town v Strabane which has a 1pm start.