Enniscorthy eye silver lining after play-off despair
Sunday is one of the biggest days in the Irish club rugby calendar as Enniscorthy and Wicklow lock horns in the Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup final at Ashbourne Rugby Club.
Enniscorthy are coming off a devastatingly disappointing defeat in Sligo last Saturday when they were deprived of a place in next season's Ulster Bank League by a last-play-of-the-game try and conversion.
Leading by five points three minutes into injury-time, the county Wexford club suffered the agony of the hosts' Jamie Bowe crossing for the equalising score that Jack Keegan converted with the last kick of the match to keep the Connacht side in Division 2C for another season.
Enniscorthy had trailed 10-3 at half-time but they scored three second-half tries through centre Hughie O'Neill, winger Ivan Jacob and full-back Ross Barbour to take control of affairs until that cruel late sucker punch denied them a place in the AIL.
Director of rugby Declan O'Brien in the immediate aftermath said: "We are all shattered and there isn't much consolation in Sligo supporters and our own telling us that we were the better team.
"We were so unlucky and I really feel sorry for the lads who have been outstanding this season. Maybe it is a good thing that we have another important match next weekend and an opportunity to get the disappointment out of our heads."
And to compound the outcome of that loss Wicklow, who last month had beaten Clondalkin in a play-off, will not now be promoted from Division 1B; this is so that numbers in Division 1A will be maintained at eight now that Dundalk have been relegated and no team has been promoted to the AIL.
There is a further negative trickle-down effect in the Leinster League as the other play-off winners, Longford and New Ross are now relegated to Divisions 2A and 2B respectively.
Enniscorthy's route to Sunday's Towns Cup final began with a first-round bye before the holders beat Cill Dara 22-16 at home in Ross Road in the second round.
A cracker of a quarter-final ensued where they again had the benefit of home advantage and this time they had to go to extra-time before defeating Kilkenny 49-35 in a repeat of last year's decider.
Kilkenny Rugby Club was the venue for their semi-final victory over Naas but the AIL club's 2nd XV pushed the favourites all the way as Enniscorthy edged home 6-3.
Wicklow travelled to Longford for their opening-round joust and had to survive the final minutes with two players in the bin as they clung on for a 13-6 win.
They were drawn at home to 2014 winners Ashbourne in the second round and put in a storming performance against the Division 1A high-flyers to soundly beat them 26-13.
A quarter-final visit to Portlaoise was the Garden county club's next port of call and despite a brave showing from their hosts Wicklow won 35-8, pulling away towards the end.
Their semi-final battle against Clondalkin at Co Carlow will never be forgotten by those who witnessed their dramatic 16-13 last-minute victory in the mud as the wind and rain never abated.
It promises to be an extremely close encounter on Sunday, a game between two well-matched teams that should produce a contest worthy of embellishing the 91-year golden history of this blue riband event.