The blue riband of Leinster Rugby gets underway next Sunday when the Provincial Towns Cup sponsored by Cleaning Contractors commences with 29 teams setting off on the path to April glory.
It is the most wide open Towns Cup in recent memory with up to ten teams claiming they have serious chances of ultimate glory.
Six of those teams are in Division 1A of the Leinster League where the captivating relegation battle became a little clearer after last Saturday’s action with Cill Dara’s fourth victory on the trot making them safe to all intents and purposes while Newbridge’s defeat at home against Coolmine leaves them in the relegation playoff position.
With two games remaining Newbridge are two points clear of bottom side Tullow and three behind sixth placed Clondalkin; in a month’s time they face Cill Dara at home followed by a last-game-of-the-campaign trip away to Enniscorthy as they strive to mastermind an escape from the jaws of relegation.
Meanwhile their neighbours across the Curragh are sitting pretty after an ugly 9-3 victory at home in Beechpark against Clondalkin that cements Cill Dara’s third place on the table and they are safe unless all results on the final two weekends go surprisingly against them.
Out half Jack Ryan struck three first half penalties for the Kildare town club as they used the elements to help establish a 9-point interval lead before withstanding a late surge by the visitors and they can now look at booking a top four place that would deliver entry into next season’s All Ireland Junior Cup.
Third placed North Kildare beat their relegation bound neighbours Clane 36-5 at home in the Maws, scoring six tries in the process and maintaining their promotion hopes although realistically it is the playoff spot they are chasing.
In Division 2B Edenderry are up to second place after their 17-13 home win in Carbury against Birr while Athy won 21-20 away at Wexford Wanderers to move up to third.
Athy, Cill Dara, Edenderry, Naas, Newbridge and North Kildare are the six Kildare teams that enter Provincial Towns Cup fray on Sunday, with three of them having genuine chances of going all the way.
Cill Dara are one of the favourites but face a tricky opening round tie away to Division 2A club Roscrea in Streamstown but they should have enough confidence garnered from their current winning run to make it through to the next round.
Newbridge are also fancied to do well this season but having incurred the wrath of the Leinster Branch for repeated failure to fulfil their 2nd XV fixtures all their Towns Cup games will be played away from home and they face New Ross in Co Carlow RFC on Sunday (neutral venue as New Ross suffered the same sanction for conceding a walkover in last season’s Towns Cup).
Naas are represented by their 2nd XV who are atop Division 2 of the Metro League and will be expected to comfortably see off Navan 2nd XV at home in Forenaughts.
The remaining Kildare teams face tough 1st round encounters and if any advance it would be a major surprise, Athy at home against Dundalk at the Showgrounds, North Kildare visit Tullow at Black Gates and Edenderry make the trip to Milltown House to play Ashbourne.
There is Ulster Bank League (AIL) Division 2A action on Saturday, Naas are at home to Bruff while NUIM Barnhall must travel to Derry to play Rainey Old Boys.