A confident Connacht have high hopes in this year’s Junior Interprovincial Rugby Championship which opens on Saturday when they host Ulster in Tuam RFC (2.30pm ).
Although never having won the tournament, Connacht have made huge strides in the last two years and there is a growing self belief within the province that a title is well within their capabilities.
Backboned by Sligo and Monivea players, this year’s squad boasts considerable experience with more than half having competed in last year’s campaign. In addition Monivea and Sligo reached the final and semi-final of this year’s All Ireland Junior Cup respectively, and manager Mick Turley believes the squad, which also boasts players from Ballina, Westport, Tuam, OLBC and Corrib. is the strongest Connacht have put together in recent years.
“Both clubs have been in good form this year. Monivea has several years’ experience playing in the play-offs for the All Ireland League and were in this year’s junior cup final, while Sligo reached the semi-finals, so they know how to perform on the bigger stage,” he says.
“Connacht have never won the championship, but we have made giant strides in the last couple of seasons and we go into the competition intent on winning every game.
“Our target is to win the competition for the first time. We have moved on from wanting to be competitive or winning a match. However all games are usually pretty close so it will require a tremendously focused effort, but we believe we have every chance of pulling it off.”
Last season Connacht lost to Saturday’s opponents by 34 - 23 and to Leinster by 23 - 17, but their determination saw them take Munster’s scalp away, by 26 - 25. As always current champions Leinster, with the bigger playing numbers, will be regarded as favourites, but Connacht will be determined to avenge their loss to them two seasons ago when they were robbed of a first interprovincial crown when defeated in the last two minutes.
Once again Connacht are coached by Seamus King and assistant Eddie Walsh who are hoping their strength up front will provide the necessary platform for the backs to exploit.
“We have an excellent mix of youth and experience in this squad,” says King. “ They are well suited to deliver on our game plan to spread the ball wide and play a fast open game which has served us well over the last few seasons.”
Connacht will play Leinster on Saturday May 7, and finish with a home match against Munster in the Sportsground in Galway on Saturday May 14. All games kick off at 2.30pm.
The side is captained by Kevin Higgins from Monivea.
Connacht Junior squad : Jamie Bowes (Sligo ), Ronan Coughlan (Monivea ), John Culkin (Monivea ), Liam Curran (OLBC ), Tom Ellard (Westport ), Mata Fafita (Sligo ), Seamus Fahy (Monivea ), Dave Hansberry (OLBC ), Kevin Higgins (Monivea ), Martin Lee (Corrib ), Wesley Maxwell (Sligo ), Doran McHugh (OLBC ), Aidan McNulty (Ballina ), Conor Mulligan (OLBC ), Brian Murphy (Corrib ), Brian Murphy (Monivea ), Michael Murphy (Ballina ), Ger O’Connor (Monivea ), Rory O’Connor (Monivea ), Willie Parker (Monivea ), Paddy Pearson (Sligo ), Dave Prior (Monivea ), Eoin Rooney (Monivea ), Aaron Spring (Sligo ), Tom Toolan (Ballina ), Mike Ward (Tuam ).