Ballyclare relishing All Ireland Junior Cup semi-final

Ballyclare coach Mike Orchin-McKeever is hoping a bumper festive crowd at The Cloughan can inspire the County Antrim side to a first ever All Ireland Junior Cup final.

Friday, 17th December 2021, 5:10 pm
Ballyclare coach Mike Orchin-McKeever

Ballyclare face Connemara in the last four this afternoon (2pm) and Orchin-McKeever has fond memories of facing the Connacht side as a player and a coach.

“No semi-final is going to be easy but home advantage should help you,” said the former centre.

“We have beaten them recently in the All Ireland Cup away a few years ago. It is a beautiful place to go and play rugby but a difficult place to get a win.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I remember playing against them in the All Ireland League with Instonians and building a good friendship with Troy Nathan who played for Connacht and Glasgow. All these games develop links and connections, it is exciting to be hosts for the game.

“It is a big occasion for the club, the supporters and the people of the town. It is the first All Ireland semi-final we’ve ever had.

“I think we should be providing a distraction which is an attraction for the whole town. There are a lot of people that have missed out so much on the social element and it is the prefect way to have reunions with old school friends and old rugby teams mates socially distanced at the side of a rugby pitch.

“There was a bit of a joke before the draw a trip on the road to Galway or that bit further to play Connemara would have been good fun before Christmas, but from a performance point of view you’d want home advantage every time for this kind of fixtures.”

Ballyclare started their cup campaign with a 41-17 win over Wexford side Gorey before having to dig deep in the quarter final away at Ulster rivals Enniskillen prevailing 18-17.

“It was great character development and great resilience in defence,” said Orchin-McKeever. “Enniskillen is a hard place to go and play, they have a very strong squad and I have a lot of respect for them, it was a huge test and a big win for us so I was delighted with that.”

Ballyclare are challenging on a number of fronts.

“There have been some great performances and plenty of wins, a loss first game of the season to Clogher and most recently last weekend both narrow loses in competitive games,” said the coach.

“We have the quarter-final in the Junior Cup to come, the semi-final of the All Ireland Cup, and we’ll see what the league holds over the course of a season dealing with Covid. The boys are back enjoying rugby which is the most important thing having missed out on it for so long.”

As well as coaching the club Orchin-McKeever also coaches Ballyclare High School.

“We have a superb link with the school, the set up we have in the club we have a lot young players coming into the senior side,” he said.

“It is exciting with the new academy/U21 structure that has been brought into Ulster rugby this year, it is making a strong club as the board, our Seconds are second in their league, the Threes are going well in their league.”

“The way we play we try to have a lot of fun, obviously we want to win matches and that what fun is to a lot of people but primarily we want to play enjoyable rugby as well and I think that is a big factor for a lot of guys coming to the club and wanting to stay.”

Clogher Valley v Newcastle West

Clogher Valley came within a point of lifting the All Ireland Junior Cup in 2014 but lost 10-9 in the final to Enniscorthy.

Head coach Steve Bothwell is hoping the side can go one better this year and bring the trophy back to Fivemiletown for the first time.

But the Co Tyrone side still have two hurdles to negotiate starting with a semi-final at The Cran against Limerick side Newcastle West (2pm), who include Ger Earls father of British Lion Keith on their coaching ticket.

“We delighted to be in it, we are a young team and I just hope we can do ourselves proud,” said Bothwell.

“It’s always a good game against Newcastle West and if we get a good performance we’ll not be far away on the scoreboard.

“At this stage of the year coming up to Christmas it is nice to be at home and with the way Covid is it is better that way too, to get a big crowd around the Valley with spur us on.

“We still have two games to go but to make the final at the end of January would be a great occasion for the club. The whole club is going well at the moment the first, seconds and thirds, the youth, the minis and we started a the girls this year so there are good numbers out.

“Everybody is feeding of feach other, and it is working out well.”

Clogher have reached the last four by dispatching Ashbourne 29-19 who had won the trophy three of the last four years and Ulster rivals Dromore 23-6.

“In the competition we have yet to really play our best,” said Bothwell

“At Ashbourne we were probably at bit apprehensive playing somebody different and we probably didn’t perform.

“And even at Dromore, who we had already beaten well in the league, we didn’t really get it together that day, but we got over the line on both occasions.

“We’d like to put in a better performance against Newcastle West.

“They have a big pack, we have a young pack so it will be up to us to move them about the park.

“Hopefully the weather conditions will be good and that is what we are able to do, we’re a young team that plays without fear.”

Clogher have only lost one match in all competitions this season and have been free scoring in the league racking up some impressive scores.

“We are getting tries on the board,” said Bothwell.

“It’s the backs having the patience to keep the ball as long as we can and that is the best way to defend and move sides around the park.”

Clogher go into this afternoon’s match on the back of a very against fellow semi-finalists Ballyclare in the league last weekend.

“It was nice to get over the line with a 14-7 win over Ballyclare,” said Bothwell.

“We surprised ourselves going there at the start of the year and winning narrowly.

“They came up to The Cran with a really point to prove and give us problems in the first half.

“In the second half we controlled the game a bit better and was glad to get over the line.”

There is a prospect of an all Ulster final but Bothwell just wants to make the decider.

“It is about looking after yourself at this stage and seeing what you can do,” he said.

“You only worry about what you can control, we’ll try our best and the boys are well up for it.

“Hopefully we can put our best foot forward.”