The eight Championship 1 sides join the eight winners from Round 1 for the Second Round of this year’s Towns Cup.
Carrick will hope to put their recent poor run of results behind them and avoid a giant killing act from Strabane while there is a repeat of the Junior Cup Final at Ballymacran Park.
Strabane v Carrick
After hardly winning any games for four years, Strabane are enjoying a renaissance at the minute. A fourth-place finish last year, their best finish in five years looks like being matched, at least, this year. There is also great work being done at underage level in both the club and local schools.
Carrick will travel West hoping to leave their poor league form behind them. With nothing to lose Strabane will throw everything they have at the Championship 1 side, but Carrick should have enough to avoid an upset.
Limavady v Lurgan
Another road trip for Lurgan is their reward after seeing off Lisburn in Round 1, and they will head to another Championship 2 side with no fear at all. This tie is a repeat of the 2016 Gordon West Cup Final were Lurgan came out on top by a single point thanks to a last minute Stephen Nolan try.
That game was an epic battle and this one has all the makings of a great tie too. Limavady have shown a lot more resolve lately and with home advantage they might just get one back on the Championship 3 side and advance to the quarter finals.
Coleraine v Randalstown
It’s been a difficult few months for Coleraine after a positive start to life back in the top tier of junior rugby. They are currently occupying the relegation play-off spot but do have games in hand over their rivals. Maybe a cup run might be the tonic to get their season back on the track. If they do end up in the same position at the season’s end, then Randalstown could well be their opponents.
The Bannsiders were regular visitors to Ulster Rugby HQ on Easter Monday not that long ago but times have changed. They aren’t among the favourites this year but with a backline containing Carstens and Poskitt Coleraine should edge a closely fought battle.
Clogher Valley v Dromore
Clogher last tasted success in the Towns Cup in 2014 their last of five finals in six years. Times have changed in South Tyrone and they are hanging on to their Championship 1 status by a thread.
Dromore on the other hand are having a fine season and are pushing hard for an All-Ireland cup spot for next season. Dromore haven’t made the Easter Monday showpiece since 1998 and surprisingly, have never won it. They will be eager to right that and should start this year’s campaign with an away win.
Ballynahinch II v Armagh II
The tie of the round and a repeat of this season’s Junior Cup final. Armagh have been impressive this season and their only defeats have been to the Hinch Men.
The Kingspan encounter before Christmas was a tough evening for the Orchard side as Ballynahinch flexed their muscles and ran out comfortable winners. Expect a similar outcome on Saturday as the holders embark on another cup run.
Ballymena II v Ballyclare
A big test for Ballyclare. Do they continue with the side that has seen them contest for the Championship 1 title, or do they rest a few players with their huge league game against Instonians which is looming on the horizon? Will they be able to juggle contesting a cup as well as a league challenge at this time of the year? This remains to be seen.
They should prevail at Eaton Park on Saturday, but with Instonians having a free Saturday, it will be interesting to see whose name is on the team sheet, and who’s isn’t.
Ards v Ballymoney
Before Christmas most people would’ve had this down as an away win, but the results of the last few weeks would have resulted in a re-think by many. Myself included. Ards did give Grosvenor a fright last week before the champions elect pulled away late on. Ballymoney halted their recent slump by beating the PSNI last week which would’ve restored the feel-good factor around Kilraughts.
A tight battle that should keep the spectators on their toes and with Ards at home, that may just tip the balance in their favour. Maybe after extra-time too.
Portadown v Enniskillen
Both these sides can put their league troubles behind them for a week and play with a bit more freedom in this weekend’s cup clash. Enniskillen are still heavily involved in a relegation battle while one more win will keep Portadown in Championship 1 for next season. The Ports did enjoy a recent 28-0 win in Enniskillen a few weeks back. A win which transformed their season.
Enniskillen have been runners-up in the last two finals which proves that league form matters little when it comes to the cup, but on current form it’s hard to see it being third time lucky.
All games on Saturday kick off at 2.30pm with extra time to be played in the event of a draw after 80 minutes.