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Westport ready to rumble

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Ballina scrum-half Michael Murphy and Westport counterpart Paul Jennings
NINE LIVES Ballina scrum-half Michael Murphy slips past his Westport counterpart Paul Jennings during their recent Connacht Junior Cup encounter. The Bulls are at home to Dunmore next weekend. Pic: Conor McKeown

Westport ready to rumble

Rob Murphy

WESTPORT will go into this weekend’s Heineken Connacht Junior Cup first round clash with Dunmore in confident mood after a comprehensive 29-5 defeat of UCG on Sunday last. The coaching staff fielded an experimental side for the contest due to injury and enforced rest, and players such as Conor O’Brien, Michael Ryder and John Browne all performed well in the contest.
Westport scored five tries, with Niall Munroe collecting a hat-trick and Danny O’Toole and Peter Corcoran adding the others. The victory maintained an excellent run of form in recent weeks and for that reason Westport are fancied to win by 12 points in Sunday’s clash with Dunmore.
Ballinrobe begin their cup campaign at home to Ballinasloe on Sunday in front of what is likely to be a their biggest crowd of the season with the official launch of the club’s new jerseys coinciding with this crucial cup match.
Ballinasloe defeated Buccaneers at home last weekend 10-5, a result that suggests they are likely to provide a serious challenge to the south Mayo side.  The prize for the winner is a home quarter-final.
Ballinrobe and Ballinasloe are both going to be among five teams demoted to a new-look Division 2 next season. But Ballinasloe have offered a lot more in the league to date, winning four of their eleven games while Ballinrobe have only managed one victory so far.
That combined with the 44-14 loss to Sligo two weeks ago suggests Ballinasloe might just edge this one in a low-scoring contest. Writing off Ballinrobe in a home cup tie is always dangerous but the visitors will have all the momentum on Sunday and should get through by one score.
Corrib will look to build on their tremendous shut-out of Loughrea on their own turf when they entertain Buccaneers in what could be the tie of the round in Headford on Sunday. These sides have had some great cup battles in the past and this will be no different. Buccaneers were understrength in Sunday’s loss to Ballinasloe and should be much stronger this weekend.
Ballyhaunis travel to Loughrea for the fourth time in as many years but each time they get a little closer to their Division 1 opponents.  On the evidence of Sunday’s showing don’t be surprised if the east Mayo side put their opponents under a lot of pressure in the contest.

MIXED FORTUNES FOR BALLINA AND CASTLEBAR

CASTLEBAR WERE defeated 15-8 by OLBC on Sunday in the Connacht Junior League at the Sportsground.  Victory would have all but sealed their place among the top four junior clubs and therefore qualification for next season’s AIB Junior Cup, but the Galway side are still chasing that last spot and started the better.
Tries from Liam and Jonathan Curran gave the home side a 15-0 lead at half time. But Castlebar showed great endeavour and determination in the second half to at least secure a valuable bonus point. Aaron Loudon got the try and Paul Coady kicked a penalty for the Mayo side, who were still reeling from last week’s shock cup exit at the hands of Portumna.
Ballina kept their hopes of avoiding the drop alive with a 12-10 victory over Tuam on Sunday. David Newman kicked well all afternoon and his four penalties were enough to see his side through a contest that they dominated for long periods without scoring a try. 

FLANAGAN ON FIRE FOR CONNEMARA

YOUNG UP-AND-COMING Ballinrobe RFC winger Patrick Flanagan was among the scorers for Connemara in their impressive 13-6 away victory over Waterpark in the AIB League on Saturday. 
Flanagan (20) was making his debut in the contest which was played in Waterford city. Despite some understandable pre-match jitters, he performed superbly, scoring the first try and making the second.
“I was pretty nervous before the match and I made a couple of basic errors in the opening ten minutes but once I settled it was fine,” he said. “The try came early enough and I finished off a move where we created an overlap out wide.”
Flanagan has played for Connacht youths and Connemara under-20s in recent seasons as well as spending the past couple of seasons playing for Ballinrobe. Connemara had conceded a total of 100 points in their two previous games so they needed a lift and were focused ahead of the game.
“The lads were really up for this, you could see that at training on Friday,” he commented. “We travelled down on Friday night, which was unusual, but I have done that before when I was with the youths. The standard is no different from an individual point of view but in terms of the team it’s very different.  There are a lot more set-pieces and planned moves than at junior level.“ 
Flanagan made Connemara’s second try with a grubber kick ahead that he would have finished off himself if he hadn’t been pulled back.  That mattered little as Matthew Clutterbuck finished off in the corner.  It was a good day for Connemara, who benefited from the return of Mark Foyle and David Newman, and not a bad day for Flanagan.

CONNACHT LOSE OUT IN EUROPEAN CONTEST
CONNACHT CONCLUDED their European Challenge Cup campaign with a four-try defeat to NEC Harlequins at the Stoop on Saturday.  It was their fifth defeat in six group matches, having begun the competition with a one-point loss at the Sportsground to the same opponents in October.
Hopes that Michael Bradley’s side could reach the quarter-finals for the fourth successive year ended in December with defeat to Montpellier. The past two weeks have given Connacht a chance to experiment with their starting line-up in preparation for next Friday’s crucial clash with Edinburgh in the Magners League
One major positive was the performance of second half substitute Peter Durcan. In just his second competitive game for the province, he kicked his first ever points when converting Conor O’Loughlin’s second half try.
Durcan has gained invaluable experience from these games against Bath last week and Saturday’s match at the Stoop which was played in front of 9,053 supporters.  While he is unlikely to feature in next week’s Magners League game, the 21-year-old is now a viable third option at fly half and remain a key part of Galwegians’ AIB League squad.

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