Towns Cup final derby has the potential to be a classic
It's down to two. Kilkenny and Enniscorthy have come through the pack and are now only 80 minutes of rugby away from Towns Cup glory.
The 90th edition of the Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup hasn't disappointed so far with memorable games and performances, with both finalists contributing heavily on both fronts.
Enniscorthy were the very first winners in 1926 and before the final on Sunday, they can boast six victories from seven final appearances with their only blemish coming in 1995 when they fell to Naas. Their most recent success came in 2012 when Ross Barbour captained them to beat Tullow.
Kilkenny have appeared in the final of this prestigious tournament 11 times, having lifted the trophy five times with their last success coming back in 2002 when they claimed the title for the second year in a row when captained by Willie O'Mahony.
More recently, the men from the Marble City have endured the pain of losing a final. Last year they fell narrowly to Ashbourne in the final and the pain of that 6-3 defeat surely still lingers around Foulkstown.
Both clubs put in a decent innings when it came to the 2014/2015 league season. Enniscorthy, operating in the top tier in 1A, had a ding-dong battle with Dundalk throughout the campaign and although they beat the Louth men twice during the year, on the final day of the season, the champions-elect came to Enniscorthy, got the win and claimed the league.
Kilkenny on the other hand went one better. A division below in 1B, Steve Ashmore's side secured the league title by a point.
And so to the final. Cill Dara will play host to the south-east derby, an honour last bestowed on them back in 2007. Both teams come into the final on the crest of a wave and with brimming confidence following impressive semi-final wins.
Following wins over Edenderry, defending champions Ashbourne and Tullow, Enniscorthy once again came face to face with Dundalk in the semi-final. Played in Naas, Dundalk dominated the opening half and led 15-0 at half-time and even by 22-8 with 20 minutes to go. While it looked like a clear-cut cruise to the finish line, Enniscorthy had other ideas and tries from Ivan Jacob and Ivan Poole inspired the comeback of all comebacks with two tries in the final two minutes to snatch victory.
Kilkenny, fresh from their Division 1B success, took apart 1A side Clondalkin in the other semi-final. It was a comprehensive display that sent out a definite signal that they are ready for life in 1A next year.
An 18-3 half-time lead was built on throughout the second half and although Clondalkin battled hard and did make some inroads, there only ever looked to be one winner from the outset. Rory McInerney controlled the game from out-half while the forward pack set the mark for an explosive backline performance.
Kilkenny look to have all the ingredients to write the wrongs of last year's Towns Cup final defeat. Their backline were magnificent in the semi-final with McInerney's cutting-edge passing at out-half standing out. There is pace and power in abundance out wide with Joe Manuel and Paudge Mahon breaking the gainline at every opportunity.
Up front, they are captained by David O'Connor at the back of the scrum. Andy Nyhenuis got two tries from the second-row but both were akin to that of a centre such is his ability and dynamism in the loose. Their scrum was solid and it is an area where both teams appear to be strong.
Kilkenny's dynamic backline will come up against a backline that has that same quality in no short supply. In Ivan Jacob they have one of the form wingers of the tournament. He got a hat-trick of tries in the opening round win over Enniscorthy and a brace in the semi-final.
Centre Ivan Poole is accurate with the boot while Killian Lett will captain the side from No 10 with former Towns Cup-winning captain Ross Barbour likely to line out at full-back.
Up front, they have the experienced Declan O'Brien in the second-row to lead them. A strong front-row in James Doyle, Davie Murphy and Paddy Waters will also be backed up by Timmy Morrissey at No 8.
The battle in the back-row and around the fringes will be interesting and significant as both out-half's have explosive backs outside them who, given quick and clean ball can do damage.
No matter what way you look at the teams, short change will result between the two. If the weather holds, we will see two back lines on top of their game thrive on the hard ground but both sides also have the packs and indeed the strength on the bench to keep it tight and last the pace.
On one hand you have Enniscorthy, hurting from second place finish in the league and on the other you have the fearless Kilkenny, Division 1B champions looking to make it a double with the added motivation of having lost last year's final.
Bring on the action.
90th Provincial Towns Cup Final
Sunday, April 26: Enniscorthy v Kilkenny, Cill Dara RFC, 3.30pm.