The All-Ireland League kicks off this weekend and it promises to be an exciting season ahead for clubs in all four provinces. This is the last season under the current structures, so the race for promotion will be keenly-fought across the four divisions.
None more so than in Division 2 where the fight for a spot in the ten-team Division 1B for 2011/12 will be interesting to say the least.
The top four clubs will automatically be promoted at the end of the season but there is room for a fifth via a play-off against the team that finishes last in Division 1B.
Terenure College finished in third place last season and if they can improve their win/loss tally of nine and six, they will certainly be contenders.
De Le Sal Palmerston ended the season in fourth place, tied on points with three other clubs and just ahead of the bunch who squeezed into the 30-point zone.
Old Wesley is another club to watch. Promoted to Division 2 last season, they performed well throughout the campaign, finishing in sixth overall.
Corinthians could also be a side to to keep an eye on. They had the same win/loss ratio as ‘Nure, but will need to pick up a few more bonus points along the way to be in the mix.
Two Ulster clubs could also have a big impact on the shape of the table. Ballynahinch and Ballymena drop down from Division 1B for this season and both will have their sights firmly set on bouncing back up.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2: Saturday, October 2
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BELFAST HARLEQUINS V THOMOND, Deramore Park
Belfast Harlequins finished two places behind Thomond last season and five points adrift without really threatening the top of the table.
Thomond beat ‘Quins 23-12 at Liam Fitzgerald Park last February. Now coached by former Ulster back Adam Larkin, the Belfast side ended their losing run in the Ulster Senior League last weekend, beating Ards 30-22, with Michael Allen, Michael Heaney, Niall Annett and Neil McComb on board.
This is a game that will certainly blow out the cobwebs with both clubs eager to get the league off to a good start.
Thomond will be hoping to bounce back from a 50-34 Munster Senior Cup first round defeat at Highfield last time out.
CORINTHIANS v BALLYNAHINCH, Corinthian Park
Two teams who have designs on gaining promotion to Division 1B. Corinthians could not have asked for a sterner test first up.
Ballynahinch will be wounded by their relegation last season. They have got off to a flying start with four bonus point wins in their first four games in this season’s Ulster Senior League, including a notable win at Ballymena last time out.
The Galway side, led by director of rugby Ciaran Smyth and coach Sean Duignan, can lay a marker for the season with their performance in this game but the odds favour an away win.
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, College Park
There is nothing like an intervarsity derby to get the season off to a start. Dublin University finished last season in mid-table but with a poor win/loss ratio of six and nine. They managed six losing bonus points though, suggesting that they could improve their lot this season.
Queen’s University were runaway winners of Division 3 last season. Bolstered by a number of Ulster Academy players, they secured 12 try-scoring bonus points to go with their 14 wins. The big question is of course can they continue that form at a higher level?
These sides competed last weekend in the Dudley Cup, which was held at Trinity. The concession of two late tries saw Dublin University lose out to UCD, and while Queen’s got the better of UCC, injuries took their toll in the final as UCD prevailed on a 24-7 scoreline.
MIDLETON v BALLYMENA, Towns Park
An interesting game first up for both teams. Midleton were promoted from Division 3 last term with a hugely impressive 59 points. Ballymena were relegated from Division 1B.
This game could be an early form guide for both of them on what is required to survive and prosper at this level. It is a long trip for Ballymena and it will be an even longer journey home if the east Cork side come away empty handed.
Midleton boosted their confidence with a Munster Senior Cup win at Old Crescent last weekend, while Ballymena also got back to winning ways courtesy of a 40-31 Ulster Senior League victory over Banbridge.
OLD CRESCENT v CLONAKILTY, Rosbrien
Old Crescent and Clonakilty struggled last season and while Clon turned things about late in the season, Crescent narrowly avoided relegation.
The Limerick men, coached by Mick Lynch, have a number of promising Under-21s pushing through into the senior ranks and will be hopeful of gelling together a strong side.
Expect a typically tough game to get the season underway as both sides try and set out their stall. Clonakilty could take the points if they can shrug off the memories of their sluggish start last season.
Clon have the better early season form, with head coach Dave O’Mahony, backs coach Paul Buckley and forwards coach Matt Jeavons having watched their charges beat Sunday’s Well (30-15) and Clonmel (48-3) in recent weeks.
OLD WESLEY v MALONE, Donnybrook
Hosts Old Wesley can have serious ambitions this season. Eric Miller’s side finished outside the top four on points difference last season but considering they had been promoted the previous year, it was a good season by any standards.
Malone finished seven points adrift and five places below, showing just how tough Division 2 can be.
When the sides met at Gibson Park last season, the Belfast side gave their Dublin rivals a 32-9 beating but can they do the same away from home?
Recent form suggests no, as Malone sit bottom of the Ulster Senior League following one win and three defeats. They will have to get last weekend’s 55-17 home loss to City of Derry out of their system quickly.
TERENURE COLLEGE v BECTIVE RANGERS, Lakelands Park
A Dublin derby to kick off the season. Terenure College will be glad to welcome Bective to Lakelands, having beaten them at Donnybrook in February.
Bective secured five losing bonus points last season but will be hoping to improve their try-scoring tally this term. If they do, Kevin Lewis’ Rangers will certainly be in the promotion mix, and it will be interesting to see what impression next signings Mike Essex, Henry Bryce and Gearoid O’Grady can make.
Both clubs could be in the mix at the end of the season, so expect a hard-fought game first up with little to chose between them. Terenure were beaten by Greystones and St. Mary’s College in recent weeks, but Ian Morgan’s men can be formidable opponents at home.
UCD v DE LA SALLE PALMERSTON, Belfield
Another Dublin derby and likely to prove a tough one for the home side. UCD struggled to fire last season, finishing in 13th place with six wins, one draw and eight losses, including a 30-20 loss to ‘Salmo.
As ever, UCD possess a talented, young squad, and they were impressive winners of the Dudley Cup last weekend.
DLSP, now in their 25th year as a merged club, ended last season in fourth place, ahead of a chasing pack. Early season does not always suit the college sides and DLSP could take advantage.
But with new captain Andy Cummiskey leading the way, and a recent Leinster Senior League Cup win over Old Belvedere a sign of their potential, UCD have the capabilities to make a winning start here.