An interesting season lies ahead for clubs in Division 3 of the All-Ireland League. While relegation is not a threat, with the new structures coming into force next season, there is still the prospect of Division 2 rugby to spur teams on.
Queen’s University and Midleton left most sides in their wake in Division 3 last season, but there were some serious contenders in the chasing pack – not least Nenagh Ormond, Banbridge and Sunday’s Well.
South Dublin club, Seapoint, are on the cusp of their first season in the All-Ireland League, beginning this weekend with a trip to Magherafelt in Derry to face Rainey Old Boys.
Seapoint’s director of rugby Karl O’Neill said: “Last season was historic but this year we are competing at a different level and it is always good to know that our legendary supporters will follow us wherever we travel.
“Their encouragement from the sidelines is vital and the team always appreciate it.”
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 3: Saturday, October 2
Kick-off 2.30m unless stated –
ARDS v NAAS, Hamilton Park
Last season was a struggle for both of these teams and relegation threatened at times. A good start always helps in this division and typically the odds favour a home win.
But the Kildare outfit will have revenge on their minds as they were pipped by three points in the corresponding fixture last season.
Ards beat Division 3 rivals Banbridge but have lost their other three matches so far in the Ulster Senior League.
Naas, on the other hand, have won three from three in their Leinster Senior League Cup pool, so an away success could be on the cards.
CONNEMARA v CITY OF DERRY, Monastery Field
Connemara flirted with relegation last season, losing ten games and only beating Portadown by a point in the race to avoid the drop. They have a promising, young squad, which includes Galway minor footballer Jack Vaughan, but they are in transition.
Their visitors, by contrast, have beefed up their squad considerably in the last couple of seasons and currently top the Ulster Senior League with five wins from five, claiming the scalps of Banbridge, Belfast Harlequins, Dungannon, Instonians and Malone.
Indeed, the Derrymen came away from Malone’s Gibson Park last Saturday with a thumping 55-17 victory.
This is a tough opening game for the only Connacht club in the division, and an away win seems more than likely.
NENAGH ORMOND v HIGHFIELD, New Ormond Park
Nenagh Ormond must be real contenders for promotion this season. Their ten wins and 49-point haul last season was not enough to catch Queen’s University and Midleton but it was a very creditable performance.
The Tipperary side also lost the Division 3 decider to Queen’s last May, with out-half David Delaney kicking 11 points in an agonising 17-16 defeat.
Cork side Highfield have dropped down from Division 2 and will be hoping to make an immediate return. This game will be a real test of their ambitions for the league run.
NUIM BARNHALL v BANBRIDGE, Parsonstown
NUIM Barnhall are a tough nut to crack. The Leixlip-based outfit finished 11th last season but they still made life difficult for a few teams along the way. New captain Eoin Hogan will be hoping to set out a marker for the season with an opening day win.
Their opponents, coached by Daniel Soper, will travel to Parsonstown with a degree of optimism, given their play-off finish last season.
Currently fifth in the Ulster Senior League table, Banbridge should be targeting this game if they have real ambition to gain promotion. Last weekend’s 41-28 defeat to Ballymena showed they have the mettle to take on bigger sides.
RAINEY OLD BOYS v SEAPOINT, Hatrick Park
Two former AIB Junior Cup champions go head to head in this clash. Both have made the jump from the junior ranks in recent years, with Seapoint newly arrived this season.
Rainey and Seaoint met at this venue in an All-Ireland Junior Cup semi-final back in February 2006, when 26-point hero Jerome McMurray guided the Old Boys to a 31-12 victory.
Rainey, who have been hit by early season injuries, will be hoping to shed their Ulster Senior League form which has seen them win only once in five outings.
Seapoint travel on the back of three wins from three in the Leinster Senior League Cup. Their new Division 3 opponents, Suttonians and Wanderers, were eclipsed at Kilbogget Park and Merrion Road.
The Killiney men should continue their winning ways at Hatrick Park on Saturday.
SUTTONIANS v INSTONIANS, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds
Only four points separated these two teams at the end of last season. Suttonians tallied up on 32 points courtesy of seven wins and eight losses, while Clem Boyd’s Instonians collected 36 points from eight wins and seven defeats.
Early season form is not always a guide but these sides have both lost two and won one in their respective provincial club competitions.
The stage seems set for a tight, tussle, although the Dublin 13 outfit will have revenge very much on their minds – given they went down 31-10 in the corresponding fixture last term. This is Suttonians’ 15th consecutive season in the All-Ireland League.
WANDERERS v NAVAN, Merrion Road
The chaps from Wanderers will be looking forward to a return to the Aviva Stadium this season but for now they must entertain Navan at their Merrion Road base.
Navan beat them 14-6 at Balreask Old last season and finished well in eighth place, having been previously promoted from the junior ranks. They will hope to kick on this season and a repeat result against Wanderers would be a good start.
Wanderers struggled for consistency last season and left a few games behind them, eventually ending up adrift of the play-offs. They will hope for better this term helped by some new blood, including director of rugby Greg McWilliams, but this should be a good opening test for both sides.
SUNDAY’S WELL v GREYSTONES, Musgrave Park (Sunday, October 3, 2.30pm)
A Sunday fixture for these two teams and an interesting encounter for both of them.
Working hard under new coach Owen Mullowney, the ‘Well must be aiming for promotion given that they finished just outside the play-offs last time out.
They will be more than happy to welcome a relegated Leinster club to ‘Muzzer’, but Greystones seem to have a bit more bite now than last season.
Former Leinster and Ireland prop Reggie Corrigan is on board in a coaching capacity and he will have ambitions to lead the Wicklow side back to Division 2 straight away. It will not be easy and this is as good an introduction to the Division 3 dogfight as you could ask for.