It is Galway county versus city in this year’s Connacht Junior Rugby Cup final in what promises to be one of the most fiercely fought deciders in years.
Loughrea RFC, who make their first appearance in a cup final for 20 years, will face Galwegians, who were winners in 2008, in Sunday’s decider at the Galway Sportsground. And for both clubs it will be a huge occasion.
Galwegians coach John Folan says it will be an emotional day for the club after the tragic loss of popular player Dave O’Hara.
“It’s going to be an emotional day for the club, and for everyone in the club who knew Dave. It will be a huge day for us, and a fantastic day for Loughrea.”
Loughrea last won the cup 30 years ago, but came close last year before losing out to Ballina in the semi-final. This year, however, they have been galvanised after finishing well in the division 1B league and, backed by strong community support, their strong run this season has provided a “real buzz” in the town and surrounding area.
Loughrea captain Willie Cullinane says the strong support at their games this year has provided a huge lift to the players, particularly in tight matches.
“We have worked hard all season. We set our goals at the start of the season and we have still a lot to play for. The buzz around town is unreal, that is what a good cup run does.
“We are 14 games unbeaten and that in itself is a very good season. It has been tough and long, but there has been great support in the area. In the last couple of minutes when we have been under pressure, the crowd has lifted us.”
Although rated as underdogs, Loughrea boast an established team that has taken shape over the last four years, and this year, new coach Tony O’Brien has added the extra layer of structure to their game.
According to the statistics they boast the best defensive record in 1B, which is also superior to any team in division 1A, that includes their Galwegian opponents. They will look to their experienced pack to lead the charge, particularly against a Galwegian side that is packed with young u-21 players.
Galwegians, however, start the fixture as favourites, by virtue of finishing third in division 1A, and having overcome favourites Monivea by 13 - 8 at the semi-final stage. Young and dangerous, they like to run the ball at every opportunity. Despite some early season hiccups, Galwegians, with pedigree, are enjoying a rich vein of form and, in players like Darragh Leader, Dave Clarke, and Ross Shaughnessy, they have proven points scorers.
It all adds up to a compelling cup final in the Galway Sportsground.