It is a year of anniversaries for Westport Rugby Club, 90 years since it was founded way back in 1925 and 40 years since their last Connacht Junior Cup win back in 1975, and a victory on Sunday in the Connacht Junior Cup final would round off this year of anniversaries quite well. The odds are stacked against Westport, but that is not going to bother JP Walsh and Danny O’Toole’s charges who go into the game as underdogs with everything to gain.
This time last year, Westport were also getting ready for the showpiece occasion of junior rugby in the province and they came up short against a classy Galwegians side who ran out 20 point winners on a scoreline of 35-15.
In the league this season Westport scored early bragging rights with a 19-10 win at home in September, with Monivea reversing that result in their second meeting with a 35-15 win in the Castle Grounds in November. At the end of the 14 game league run, Monivea came within touching distance of claiming the title, but were pipped on the last day by Connemara into second place. Westport finished back in fourth place 17 points behind their opponents on Sunday, with Monivea winning three more league games and running in 50 tries in their 14 games to pick up 12 bonus points, the biggest bonus point return for any side in the division.
On paper Westport have had the easiest run to the final, beating an OLBC side that failed to win a league game all season in the first round, before seeing off NUIG from the third tier in the quarter-final and then beating fellow Mayo men Ballina in the semi-final. Monivea beat Buccaneers who won the Junior 1B title in round one 22-0, before going on to beat the eventual top division champions Connemara 16-8 in the quarter-final and disposing of Castlebar 29-12 in the semi-final to book their spot in the final.
Westport warriors have the quality
If Westport are to win the cup on Sunday for the fifth time in their history, they are going to need big games from one to 15 and will have to keep their discipline, unlike their semi-final win over Ballina where they were down to 13 men after Dylan Carpenter and Mick Cronin were sinbinned early in the second half and captain David Keane was later red carded which sees him miss Sunday’s final.
But they have plenty of quality still in the side, with the half-back pairing of Carpenter and Séan Tobin well capable of running the game and creating the chances for Dave O’Malley and Kevin Corcoran in the centre or Niall O’Malley on the wing. In the tight players like Kevin Hastings, Kevin Gill, and Cormac Gordon have come into their own this year and their tackling and ball carrying will be vital if the Bulls are to stop the Monivea challenge. Westport have had their fair number of close shaves over the years since their 4-3 win over Connemara back in 1975, they will need a few more points on the board on Sunday, but they have the potential and the ability to do it to bring the old trophy back to Carrowholly for a good celebration.
Connacht Junior Cup final
Westport v Monivea
The Sportsground, Galway
Sunday April 4 at 3pm