Paul McIntyre from Back of the Stand looks ahead to this weekend’s Ulster 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 disposed 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 Rd 1 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 loss to Larne, but that result was later reversed in the boardroom and the Red Socks will no doubt fancy their chances in this one. However, 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.