Ennis Rugby club will make history this coming weekend when taking part in a first ever All-Ireland final – it will be destination Mullingar for the national Under 16 decider against Tullow from Carlow, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

LEINSTER rugby is on a high, while Munster rugby is a long way from there. That’s the only thing to take out of the weekend action in the Champions Cup, but a week on you could say that the Ennis Under 16’s will have a chance to strike a blow for their province this coming Saturday.

That’s when they take on Carlow side Tullow in the inaugural Under 16 All-Ireland final, with all roads for members of the Ennis club leading to Mullingar for what will be a historic first national decider for them at any level.

The Ennis side will go to the Westmeath venue in confident mood, with this belief coming from a great run through Munster and league and cup level to reach the decider in a mammoth campaign that stretches back to their pre-season preparations last Autumn.

“We would have started back in September with a few pre-season games but it really kicked off for us at the end of October with the North Munster League,” reveals Kenneth Butler, who is part of the Ennis coaching ticket.

“The first half of the season was taken up with the North Munster League and we won that back in December which gave us top seeding in the Pan Munster Cup.

There were three groups in this competition, with six teams in each group. The 18 teams came from the whole of Munster. “We topped our group, winning all five matches. We started off by beating Midleton. Then we had Tralee, Mallow and Skibbereen. Then we had Nenagh in the quarter-final, Skibbereen in the semi and Cobh in the final,” he adds.

For Butler et al it’s been a case of guiding the gradual progression of the team over the past six years, with the All-Ireland final appearance being the culmination of a lot of hard work within the club at underage level.

“We would have started with this group when they were at Under 10 and Under 11,” reveals Butler. “They’ve been together that long and a core group of the players have been there since the beginning. We always felt there was a good group there because we were back-to-back champions at Under 14 and Under 15. The cup competitions start at Under 13 level and we lost both finals at that age group to Young Munster, but we came back from those defeats to win back-to-back leagues and cups,” he adds.

Ennis – Path to the Final

Round 1 – Ennis 38 Midleton15

Round 2 – Ennis 13 Tralee 12

Round 3 – Ennis 28  Mallow 15

Round 4 – Ennis 29 Skiberreen 7

Quarter-Final – Ennis 45 Nenagh 8

Semi-Final – Ennis 26 Skiberreen 8

Final – Ennis 21 Cobh 12

All-Ireland Semi-Final

Ennis 30 Ballinasloe 27

Now comes the greatest test, with the Leinster champions being the only side to beat them this year in competitive action — that came when they clashed in the semi-final stage of a pre-season tournament in Tullamore.

“Tullow will be a good team,” admits Butler, “They’re big and strong physical team, while Sean O’Brien would be a big advantage to them being involved in the Tullow club. In that tournament in Tullamore we beat teams like Claremorris, Tullamore and Boyne before being beaten by Tullow in the semi-final”.

What better way to exact revenge than by beating them in the All-Ireland final?

“Winning the Munster Cup was our aim at the start of the season and we’ve done that,” says Butler. “It means that  everything after that has been a bonus. It’s great to be in the All-Ireland final. “They are a resilient bunch. In the last couple of games we have come from behind and shown great character to win games. In the Munster final against Cobh we came from behind. They went ahead at the start but we came back. They were leading by 12-6 at half-time but we didn’t allow them score in the second half and came back to win it well.

“Against Ballinasloe in the semi-final we had gone ahead at the start, but were losing by two points, 27-25, with just four minutes remaining, but we got a try at the end from Brian Barry to win it. They have great heart and are a bunch of guys that keep going to the end and don’t give up. If they want something they’ll go for it and that’s the way it has been all year with them.”

The same attitude and they’ll be All-Ireland champions this weekend.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism. Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books. Contact Joe on jomuircheartaigh@clarepeople.ie

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