Enniscorthy target seventh title
It has been a very successful season for Enniscorthy and Kilkenny and now both are within 80 minutes of getting their hands on the blue riband of Leinster Junior rugby, the Provincial Towns Cup.
In fact, it is one of the oldest cups in Irish rugby, and it will be played for in the final in Cill Dara on Sunday at 3.30 p.m.
Both teams have an excellent record in the competition and Enniscorthy will be preparing for their ninth final, winning six, while Kilkenny are also on the six-win mark. Kilkenny were beaten in last year's decider and Enniscorthy last won in 2012.
Enniscorthy went very close to capturing the league (Division 1A) this season, beating Dundalk home and away but losing the title because they had less bonus points.
And it was Dundalk whom they beat in the cup semi-final also with two injury-time tries when they looked dead and buried. Kilkenny pipped Gorey to the Division 1B league title and they have had a very consistent season too. They put 40 points on Clondalkin in the semi-final.
The 'Scorthy boys have been beaten just twice this season, losing to Monkstown in the league while neighbours Gorey beat them in the South-East league final at Christmas.
Remarkably only four players remain from the 2012 cup-winning team which beat Tullow in Portarlington 23-17: Ross Barbour, Alan Jacob, Ivan Poole and Declan O'Brien. The veteran O'Brien has been playing out of his skin this season and is so vital to a largely young side. O'Brien is the only forward that remains an ever-present from that team which also featured Ciarán Murphy (Australia), John Howe (retired), Luke Goff (injured), Jonathan Leech (seconds), Mitchel Dalton (injured), Graham Murphy (retired), Tony Ryan (Clontarf), Hughie O'Neill (substitute), Damian McCabe (substitute), Fiacre Ryan (seconds) and Richard Dunne (Old Belvedere).
The new faces that have come in have mostly come through the club's under-age system, namely James Breen, Davy Murphy, Tomás Stamp, Seán Wall, Timmy Morrissey, Evan Lett, Paul Bolger, Ivan Jacob, Daniel Pim, Jack Kelly and Shane Maguire.
The arrival of Killian Lett to his home club this year from Clontarf has been a huge boost. His experience and powerful running gives the team a new dimension. Paul Bolger also arrived home after a couple of years in the A.I.L. with U.L. Bohemians and both himself and Ivan Jacob have scored a bag of tries.
Head coach Damian McCabe is very cautious however. 'Look, we have had a fantastic season and the lads have been brilliant but we haven't won any silverware. There is no doubt that we are hungry but Kilkenny are a really good team and if we are not switched on they will nobble us.
'They have like ourselves a very good mix and we have a lot of respect for them. We were awful for 60 minutes of the semi-final against Dundalk and then we burst into life and scored a couple of amazing tries.
'It has also been a long season and it is very hard to keep that freshness. Our back division will get a lot of praise and rightly so, but our front five have really manned up. They are perceived to be our weakness but I think they have been brilliant,' he said.
'The likes of James Breen, Davy Murphy and Tomás Stamp have really come of age, as has Timmy Morrissey. They have had to grow into men quickly. Our line-out success has been a big part of our play too so it will be important that it functions properly as it was a little dodgy in the semi-final.
'Obviously having Declan (O'Brien) around is a massive bonus and he is still playing so well and his coaching input has been immense. The job he did with the Irish ladies' forwards in the 6 Nations was a testament to his abilities. We are lucky that he is still playing and he carries such a measure of respect amongst the lads and indeed opposition teams.'
Kilkenny as we know is more renowned for its hurling prowess but they have had a lot of rugby success over the years and they certainly have a good outfit this season. They won the Leinster Junior Cup in 1920 which was a forerunner to the Towns Cup. The final took place in Lansdowne Road and they actually beat Enniscorthy in that game.
Enniscorthy went on to win it in 1923 and 1925. They in fact won the very first Provincial Towns Cup (after a competition rule change) in 1926.
Kilkenny last won the Cup in 2002 which came on the back of a successful season, and of course they were beaten in the final last year by Ashbourne. They almost became a Senior club in the 2003 season when winning the league but they lost the round robin play-offs to Bruff and Ards.
Willie Duggan and Ned Byrne are two of their most famous sons and latterly Ian Dowling, who played on that 2003 team, went on to represent Munster and win a Heineken Cup medal in 2006. Mick Galway, who lives in Kilkenny, played for the 2004 season before his retirement.
They completely overwhelmed Clondalkin in the semi-final with a dominant display of free-flowing rugby as they led from pillar to post. Out-half Rory McInerney is a terrific number 10 and is their playmaker. He also has a very good boot and the Enniscorthy boys know that they won't be able to gift him penalty kicks.
Darren McGrath is also a very good, busy scrum-half and he will snip around his forwards all day. Seán Moran is a speedy full-back who loves to get on the end of most back moves. They have a powerful weapon in their forward division in Kiwi Andy Nyhenuis who scored two tries in the semi-final, and when you add in a back row of Ray Pembroke, John Phelan and number 8 David O'Connor, it's clear they have a very good team.
Enniscorthy have been largely outstanding on occasions but they have shown a slight inconsistency at times which probably cost them the league title. They have a terrific back division who are a real danger for any opposition, and when they are on song they have punished the best of teams.
Killian Lett and Daniel Pim are such a formidable partnership in the centre as they are very good defenders and are so lively in attack, and with Bolger and Jacob on the wings it is their most potent division.
Add in the inventiveness of Ivan Poole and the surging runs of Ross Barbour and there is a wonderful mix of pace and experience. Killian Lett has arrived with a bag of experience having won a U.B.L. league medal with all-conquering Clontarf last season. He also represented his country at various ages and played in an Under-20 World Cup with Ireland in 2004 and also played with the Irish club team for a couple of seasons.
'I am delighted to be playing with my home club and we have had a fantastic season, but as Damian has said we haven't won anything yet,' Lett, the team captain, said.
'Kilkenny might have been playing in Division 1B but the impressive way that they won that suggests we are in for a real challenge. They will be smarting after losing last year's final and although we will probably be favourites that will count for nothing on Sunday when we run out on the pitch.
'If we start like we did against Dundalk we will be in trouble but the success of the seconds has given us a real boost and the rest for the past three weeks will have crowned us. I am really looking forward to the final, in fact I can't wait.'
It has all the ingredients of being a cracker with two teams that like to throw the ball around. Enniscorthy might have the edge but they will have to be on their guard.