A grand slam is a fine way to end a long wait for a Junior Inter-Provincial title and Ulster completed the job on Saturday with a highly impressive 20-6 victory over title holders Leinster at Ashbourne.
After 10 years, Saturday saw Ulster lift the title following a tight fought win against Connacht 20-12 two weeks ago and a great performance against Munster last weekend in Carrickfergus with a 35-0 victory.
The west had a strong representation on the team with Enniskillen’s outhalf Nick Finlay and backrow Jamie Johnston, former Enniskillen man, now of Portadown, James Carleton, Clogher Valleys second rows David Sharkey, Eugene Mckenna and hooker Kyle Cobaine involved with the squad throughout the series. The experience of the Ulster forwards coach Davy Black of Clogher Valley passed on his knowledge to a pack that dominated at every opportunity. Training commenced back in February for the Ulster squad with over 60 players attending the sessions and trials. The training continued with two sessions a week taking place in Portadown leading up to final squad being selected and commencing the Inter-Provincial series.
The Leinster game proved to be the toughest battle of all for the Ulster lads, in a game that was played at a high pace and open rugby from both teams. Ulster was slow to start and fell behind to an early penalty from the Leinster winger. Eventually Ulster began to get into their pattern of play, establish field position and work a great score by their fullback after 20 minutes. Just before half time the Ulster team out muscled the opposition with tight drives around the fringes before their number 8 bullied his way over for a 14-3 lead. Leinster pulled back a penalty shortly after the break before Finlay restored the margin of advantage with a well taken drop goal. A further penalty from Ulster ended a closely fought second half and secured the title for Ulster.
Enniskillen Captain Jamie Johnston in his third year of selection for Ulster Juniors commented on this year’s experience with the side.
"What really amazed me was how well the boys came together, it is difficult sometimes to create a cohesive team environment in just 4 weeks. This year we had a brilliant group of lads who really bought into the process, our coaches were outstanding this year aswell. It was a very enjoyable month and one that I feel very fortunate to have been involved with."
Forwards Coach Davy Black was clearly delighted at the Interprovincial success that has eluded the Ulster side since back in 2004 and commented particularly at the huge impact from the local contingent.
“We were very lucky this year in how quickly the guys started to gel and build that sense of togetherness which i think really made the biggest difference in comparison to unsuccessful sides from previous years who also had some incredibly talented individuals. Obviously the influence from the west of the province was really satisfying for me. Nick Finlay made a big impact throughout, particularly in marshalling the backline defence while Jamie Johnston probably single handedly turned the Connacht game with a great performance. James was a very consistent performer and a key ball carrier along with Sharkey who really showed his experience and was a very calming influence amongst the boys throughout despite missing one game with injury. Kyle and Eugene brought strength in depth to the squad in their first year of involvement, Eugene played a great half against Munster and while Kyle didn’t get any interpro game time i think the experience at this high level will really benefit them as players in the future. Altogether it’s great to see so much local involvement in such a big achievement and it sends a good message throughout the province as to the level of rugby in our part of the world.”
Photo (from left): Davy Black (Forwards Coach), Jamie Johnston, Nick Finlay, James Carleton