Arch rivals Buccaneers and Galwegians will square up in the Connacht Senior Cup final at Crowley Park, Galway, on Friday evening, with a 7.30pm kick-off for this floodlit decider.
Connacht have two key away fixtures this weekend, with the flagship side travelling to Newcastle Falcons for a Sunday clash in the European Challenge Cup, and the Eagles away to Jersey in the British and Irish Cup on Saturday.
With Connacht enduring an injury crisis it is likely that these fixtures will greatly impact on player availability for Buccs and Wegians. Both clubs supply the majority of the Eagles squad, so Conor McKeon, Rory Moloney, Jacob Walshe, Saba Meunargia and ex-Galwegian Conor Lowndes could be missing from the Pirates crew, while Shane O’Leary, Caolin Blade, Aidan Moynihan, Peter Claffey and Marc Kelly are possible absentees from Wegians panel.
Buccs and Wegians have only three wins each in their respective Ulster Bank League campaigns, with narrow losses a feature for both clubs. Galwegians won their last game, a crunch tie at home to Ballynahinch, which has given them an injection of hope. This followed a spirited narrow defeat away to leaders Clontarf which was preceded by a notable win over champions Lansdowne.
The Blues are gaining in confidence, so they will be anxious to maintain momentum when Buccs visit the Glenina venue. Brian Murphy, John Cleary and Dave Clarke can be counted on to provide guile and a cutting edge in the Westerners’ potent backline. Ja Naughton captains the challengers from the front row where he could be joined by Jason East. Anthony Ryan, Martin Cummins, and the highly regarded Dave Nolan are other forwards of pedigree.
Buccs' recent record against Wegians has been good, winning last year’s cup final by 28-14 and then running up a big score in this season’s Connacht League meeting which clinched that title for the Athlone outfit. However, that fixture was a one-off and is most unlikely to be replicated even with so many players expected to be unavailable.
The Midlanders have been hugely frustrating during this term and really should be much higher up the AIL league table. An improvement in concentration and focus can get them back to winning ways, which would also restore confidence to a mainly young squad. Buccs will look to Martin Staunton, Alex Hayman, Callum Boland, and Garreth Halligan for the necessary leadership. Michael Mannion, the Farrell brothers, Evan Galvin, Scott Flanagan, Ruairi Byrne, and Paul Gallogly are forwards who will relish the challenges posed by the hosts.
Backs Rory O’Connor, Eoghan O’Reilly, Cameron Hertz, and Brannagh Corcoran are enterprising and energetic, while Graham Lynch and Ricky Dixon are likely to vie for the scrumhalf berth. Darin Claasen and David Fagan are other options in the backline, while Kolo Kiripati and Ben Carty are the holder's main injury concerns for this repeat of last season’s final pairing.
Commitment and discipline will be the crucial factors on Friday in what should be a thoroughly competitive affair regardless of whatever line-ups take to the field. Galwegians will wish to atone on home soil for recent losses to Buccaneers, but the Shannonsiders will be motivated to finish the year on a high as they defend this trophy, with the visitors seeking to complete a rare cup and league double.