Clontarf have an ideal chance to move back to the summit in AIB League Division One when Old Belvedere pay them a visit on Saturday. Not only are Belvo currently struggling for form but ‘Tarf’s main rivals at the top of the table – Blackrock College and Dolphin – have had their games postponed.
Speaking ahead of the Clontarf v Old Belvedere clash at Castle Avenue, Clontarf manager Pat McHale told the Evening Herald: “It is a local derby. We will take nothing for granted. How can we? We have lost three in a row to Dolphin, UCD and UL Bohemians.
“We weren’t far off the pace (in those games). We took a bonus point from each of them.
“But, we want more than that. It is very important we get back on the winning track. The intention is to finish in the top four and hopefully in the top two for a home semi-final.”
Belvo have slipped to tenth in the table and Saturday’s trip to north Dublin will have added meaning for their coach Phil Werahiko who was in charge of Clontarf for six seasons.
International commitments – Max Rantz McDonald has been training with the Ireland Sevens squad and Michael Keating with the Irish Under-20s – could see ‘Tarf play without their two first-choice wingers.
But the Andy Wood-coached north Dubliners have strength in depth and should have enough quality to end what has been a January to forget for them.
Clontarf won 17-10 when Old Belvedere made their only previous AIB League visit to Castle Avenue in February 1998.
Provincial prospects Felix Jones and Eoin O’Malley are both out injured for Belvo, however their team captain Richie Leyden has recovered from the injury he shipped during last weekend’s defeat to St. Mary’s College.
Galwegians and UCD both play an entertaining brand of rugby so their encounter at Crowley Park should draw a decent-sized crowd. UCD have history on their side, having won the five most recent fixtures between the clubs including the last two out west.
The Connacht-contracted Brian McGovern, Conor Muldoon and Andrew Browne will bolster the hosts’ pack, while Leinster’s Fergus McFadden, who has been in excellent goal-kicking form, and Ireland Sevens flyer Cian Aherne are two players to watch out for in the UCD back-line.
Scrum half Cormac Quinn is an injury doubt, however, after picking up an injury in last Saturday’s home win over Buccaneers. John Cooney, Rob Shanley and Dara Geraghty could take his place.
Buccaneers, who lost 30-24 at UCD last time out, face a long haul and tough test when they journey south to square up to defending Division One champions Cork Constitution.
Cork Con have struggled for consistency either side of Christmas but they can certainly turn it on when they want to, as evidenced by last weekend’s impressive 49-3 dismissal of Dungannon at Stevenson Park.
Full-back-cum-winger Richie Lane remains a points-scoring machine, while Cronan Healy, Tom Gleeson, Tim Ryan and Billy Holland have been stand-out players this season.
The Leesiders are also very hard to better on their home patch of Temple Hill, but Young Munster’s win there earlier in the season will give Buccaneers some hope.
The Pirates have some other worries to contend with. Garreth Halligan is doubtful following his injury sustained at UCD but Marcus Madden is a more than willing and able deputy.
Benny Gilligan shipped a knock on his knee at Castlebar but of more concern perhaps will be the contribution by their second row pairing. The team management had hoped that Clifford Richardson would have got game-time at last away to Castlebar but that did not happen so, with a lengthy list of absentees in this key sector, Buccs will be stretched.
Meanwhile, after their heavy loss to Cork Con, Dungannon will make the long trip south to Coonagh in search of a much-needed win.
John Andrews is without all of his Ulster-contracted players bar Declan Fitzpatrick this week, while underage internationals Thomas Anderson and Chris Cochrane are both on the club’s injury list.
Shannon showed their fighting spirit to take an 18-9 verdict over Galwegians last weekend, with try-scoring hooker Mike Essex impressing in a powerful pack.
Out-half Tadhg Bennett still leads the way at the top of the scoring charts and his half-back partner Fiach O’Loughlin, the Shannon captain, is beginning to fire.
With ‘Gannon at a low ebb, Shannon should be able to strengthen their play-off ambitions with a bonus point victory.
With only seven points separating the top eight sides in the division, Garryowen and UL Bohemians know how valuable a win could be in Saturday afternoon’s Limerick derby at Dooradoyle.
Although both sides boast 24 points, Garryowen are ahead of UL in sixth place courtesy of a better scoring difference. They continued their winning form by beating bottom side Terenure College at Lakelands last week, while Bohs gained ground on the pacesetters with an impressive dismissal of Clontarf.
The back row battle will be one to watch as Bohs’ Aidan O’Gorman, Tommy O’Donnell and James O’Neill try to outdo a home unit which is inspired more often than not by team captain Paul Neville. Hard to predict which way it will end up but home advantage may just be enough for Dara O’Sullivan’s men.
AIB LEAGUE FIXTURES: Saturday, January 31
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Blackrock College v Ballymena, Stradbrook (Postponed due to an unplayable pitch)
Clontarf v Old Belvedere, Castle Avenue
Old Belvedere (v Clontarf): E Devitt; D Mongan, K Hurrell, K Barden, E Fitzgerald; P Treacy, R Cushion; M Wilczuk, D Gavin, J Hagan, E Jackman, P Spivey, R Leyden, J Risdon, L Auva’a.
Cork Constitution v Buccaneers, Temple Hill
Buccaneers (v Cork Constitution): J O’Brien; S Carey, A Gaughan, A Hayman, A Wynne; S Rolleston, M Bruce; M Diffley, M Madden, K Moran, L Tonkin, D Gannon, K Kiripati, K O’Gorman, A Hanley.
Galwegians v UCD, Crowley Park
Galwegians (v UCD): R O’Beirn; J Cleary, C Brigl, C Rogers, B Murphy; M Brandon, T Ellard; B McGovern, C Muldoon, J Stephens, A Browne, L Scahill, I Muldoon, N McCarthy, L Casserly.
UCD: M Hastings; C Aherne, F McFadden, K Lett, S Gillespie; I McKinley, C Quinn; JA Lee, C Geoghegan, B Barclay, B Cawley, A Houlihan, M Flanagan, K Croke, K McLaughlin.
Garryowen v UL Bohemians, Dooradoyle
UL Bohemians (v Garryowen): E Torrie; M McPhail, G Boland, C Finn, M Doyle; F Lawlor, C Delooze; K Flanagan, S Henry, M Storey, B Madigan, A Hartigan, A O’Gorman, T O’Donnell, J O’Neill.
Shannon v Dungannon, Coonagh
Dungannon (v Shannon): J McGuckin; N Patterson, P Magee, G Telford, M Maguire; R McCarter, M Ferry; G Sinnamon, C Snipe, N O’Kane, M Rainey, R Holmes, J Turkington, D Hall, N Magee.
Terenure College v Dolphin, Lakelands Park (Postponed due to an unplayable pitch)
Young Munster v St. Mary’s College, Tom Clifford Park (Postponed due to an unplayable pitch)
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