The AIB League takes a back seat to the AIB Cup this weekend so while the clubs draw breath, we thought it was a good time to take a sideline look at some of the stories from the first four weeks of action.
..The West Is Awake…O2 Engage Proving A Success…Reid Demands More From Pacesetting Ports…Stars And Stripes For Sheahan…Bennett Top Of The Charts…Say What?…Numbers Game…
THE WEST IS AWAKE: While the resurgence of the Leinster clubs in Division One has been duly noted, it has been heartening to see the level of performances put in by the Connacht sides in recent weeks.
Galwegians and Corinthians have snuggled themselves into the top five of Divisions One and Three respectively, while Buccaneers and Connemara have also been on the winning trail.
It is early days but ‘Wegians coach Kevin Tierney seems to have got the right blend of homegrown talent and foreign imports at Crowley Park.
Witness how new half-backs Matt Brandon and Ben Draper have slotted in effortlessly behind the Ivan Muldoon-led pack, helping the team to three wins in four league games.
Muldoon was in inspirational form during last weekend’s gritty win at home to Old Belvedere, while Robert O’Beirne, John Cleary, Conor Muldoon and Liam Scahill have all made valuable contributions.
Cleary’s recent hat-trick of tries in the westerners’ first ever league win at Ballymena showed he remains one of the best finishers in the country.
Club rugby may seem a world away from the provincial set-ups sometimes but the ‘Wegians and Connacht coaching staff seem to have a well-oiled system in place that benefits both.
Connacht scrum half Kieran Campbell picked up some valuable game-time in the ‘Wegians number 9 jersey last Saturday, and prop John Lyne’s return to the Connacht starting line-up was undoubtedly aided by his club form.
Connacht assistant coach Eric Elwood braved the elements to watch his old club in action against Belvedere and it is a scenario that is being repeated all over the country.
More so than any other recent season, ALC has noticed the number of contracted players that are featuring in team selections in the AIB League.
Not only that, the younger players, like ‘Wegians 20-year-old lock David Nolan, are thriving alongside these pros and long-time league campaigners and that, in one sense, is what the league is all about.
To see the smile break onto Nolan’s bloodied face after the hard-earned win over Belvedere, you know he feels the same way.
‘O2 ENGAGE’ PROVING A SUCCESS: A number of AIB League clubs have been enjoying the benefits of signing up for a number cash-injecting scheme that O2 are trialing.
O2 Engage lets you give 5% of your O2 bill directly to your rugby club. And since 02 makes the contribution, it will not cost you a cent extra.
The O2 Engage trial membership, which is open to private and business customers of O2, entitles each registered user to nominate one of 12 IRFU-affiliated clubs.
The clubs taking part are Buccaneers RFC, Galwegians RFC, Shannon RFC, Dolphin RFC, Kilfeacle RFC, Waterpark RFC, Bective Rangers RFC, Old Belvedere RFC, St. Mary’s College RFC, Longford RFC, Kilkenny RFC and Ashbourne RFC.
All it takes is one simple text message. To join O2 Engage, freetext the word ‘RUGBY’ to 50308.
Your nominated club will receive a ‘contribution’ from O2 equivalent to 5% of your standard monthly charge (exclusive of VAT), plus 5% of any additional voice and text spend.
O2 will make payments to your nominated affiliated club every 12 months. The first payment will be on January 1, 2009.
The closing date for the O2 Engage trial is December 31, 2008 and, if continued, the promotion will be reviewed every 12 months thereafter.
For more information on the terms and conditions, please click here.
REID DEMANDS MORE FROM PACESETTING PORTS: Portadown are one of only three clubs – Clontarf and Ballynahinch being the others – that remain unbeaten after the opening four weeks of the AIB League.
The Ports strengthened their lead at the top of Division Three with a battling 5-3 win over Connemara at Monastery Field.
A 54th-minute try from Kiwi full-back Tom Overy helped the Ports come from behind to chalk up their fourth straight league victory.
However, their coach Hika Reid reckons that Portadown are playing nowhere near their potential and they will have to improve in order to remain top of the pile.
“We’re still not performing to anything like our best level. We’re getting too many little things wrong and creating problems for ourselves as a result,” Reid told the Portadown Times.
“Sometimes it’s in ball-into-contact situations. Sometimes it’s about ball protection. Sometimes it’s just handling skills.
“But while we’re not playing particularly well, we’re winning, so I take encouragement from that.
“I know how much better we can be and I know that given time and familiarity with structures and sequences, the things I want to see happen will become second nature.”
Reid, who played 40 times for the All Blacks from 1980 to 1986, is confident that his side could handle life in Division Two if they secure promotion at the end of the season.
“At this stage I’m asking the players to confirm their intensity and desire, to show their willingness to fight and to keep doing the hard work.
“If we do that, I know we can beat anybody in this division and most – if not all – of those in the division above, too.”
After a disastrous first season – Portadown failed to win a single Division Three match during the 2006/07 campaign – Reid and his charges have come back stronger and are on the right road again.
STARS AND STRIPES FOR SHEAHAN: From saturated to ‘Sandy’. An AIB League player could make his international debut for the US Eagles on Saturday week (November 8) against Uruguay.
The Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, the home of Major League Soccer outfit Real Sale Lake, will host the game between the Scott Johnson-coached US and Uruguay.
St. Mary’s College number 8 Kevin Sheahan could make his bow for the Americans, after impressing during his stint with the squad in August.
Sheahan is a former Ireland Under-20 international – he played in the Grand Slam-winning side of 2007 – and slotted in at openside flanker against Munster in August after catching Johnson’s eye.
The Boston-born forward (20), who started Mary’s recent wins over Dungannon and Cork Constitution, spent the first five years of his life Stateside.
Disappointing as it is that one of Ireland’s underage talents is declaring for the Eagles, ALC wishes both him and Galwegians-capped scrum half Robbie Shaw well for the autumn Tests against Uruguay and Japan (November 16 and 22).
BENNETT TOP OF THE CHARTS: It is great to see Shannon out-half Tadhg Bennett back on top form, just eight months after he dislocated his shoulder in an AIB League match against Ballymena.
Bennett is quickly becoming Shannon’s talisman this term. The 22-year-old has been the club’s primary source for points, tallying up 71 points in four league games as Division One’s top scorer.
He landed a crucial, late penalty in the club’s 17-17 draw with Garryowen at a floodlit Thomond Park and was also in match-winning form when he scored 25 points (2 tries, 3 conversions and 3 penalties) in last weekend’s triumph over Terenure College.
A product of the Shannon underage set-up, he dropped the match-winning drop goal in the club’s All-Ireland Under-20 final win over Dublin University in 2006.
He has already played for Munster ‘A’ this season and it may not be too long before he breaks into the professional ranks. He is certainly a player to watch out for.
“I was targeting three wins from four but 11 points isn’t too bad. Considering the number of unavailable players we have had and conceding only 19 points, we have done really well.
“Teams don’t look like scoring against us. (Today) Rainey had the wind in the second half but we seem to like defending. I don’t know what it is.”
– County Carlow coach Jason Jones reflects on his side’s 3-3 Division Three draw with Rainey Old Boys last weekend and their run of two wins and a draw in this season’s AIB League
“On a day when the world looked like it needed a plumber, Banbridge threw the kitchen sink at us and we stood up brilliantly to the challenge.
“All of the games in this division tend to be close and we have had two very close calls that didn’t go our way. Today that changed and we have shown the league what we are made of.”
– A defiant Barnhall coach Ian Morgan comments on his side’s 9-3 AIB League Division Three victory over Banbridge at Parsonstown last Saturday
“I was very pleased with the boys. Once they got going they were fine and scored three good tries. Their defence in the face of a late surge was brilliant.”
– Dungannon coach John Andrews is a happy man after watching his players hold firm for a 22-16 Division One success over Dolphin at Stevenson Park on Saturday
5 – The number of all-Division One games in next weekend’s schedule of AIB Cup second round clashes. The highlight undoubtedly is a repeat of last season’s final between Blackrock College and Shannon at Stradbrook
11 – The number of league matches Division One champions Cork Constitution went unbeaten (stretching back to last January), until they fell to Young Munster recently
4 – Division Two table-toppers Ballynahinch are four points clear of second-placed Bruff, heading into the break for the autumn internationals. With 113 points, Derek Suffern’s ‘Hinch side are also the top scorers across all three divisions
For match reports, round-ups and photo galleries, visit our dedicated AIB League section – www.IrishRugby.ie/aibleague.