A heavyweight Limerick derby between Garryowen and Shannon launches the new Ulster Bank League Division 1B campaign tonight, as the big battle for promotion to the top flight begins.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, September 13
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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GARRYOWEN v SHANNON, Dooradoyle, Friday, September 12, 7.30pm
Preview: These are changed times for the two Limerick giants – this is Shannon’s second season in Division 1B where they are now joined by Garryowen, who suffered top flight relegation for the first time last April.
Player-turned-coach Conan Doyle will be hoping Garryowen can continue where they left off last term when they stunned Old Belvedere with a 23-18 final day defeat.
Like the Light Blues, Ian Sherwin’s Shannon have had to rely on younger, emerging players of late but out-half Tadhg Bennett remains a potential match winner and his kicking duel with Jamie Gavin could be decisive here.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 9, 2012: Garryowen 12 Shannon 6, Dooradoyle; Friday, March 29, 2013: Shannon 16 Garryowen 12, Thomond Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win
BALLYMENA v CORINTHIANS, Eaton Park
Preview: Promoted Ballymena could make quite a statement of intent if they overcome Corinthians, a team that finished fourth last season after such a terrific start.
The Braidmen, coached by Andy Graham, have brought in out-half Ritchie McMaster from Queen’s University and back rower Stephen Mulholland returns from Rainey Old Boys.
Pat Cunningham has taken over as Corinthians’ head coach, assisted by Gavin Duffy (backs) and Sean Duignan (forwards), and they will want to hit the ground running after losing 38-11 to neighbours Galwegians in the Connacht Senior League.
Recent League Meetings – The teams have not played each other since 2011
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
GALWEGIANS v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY, Crowley Park
Preview: Having won Division 2A last year and recently retained their Connacht Senior League title, Galwegians enter this campaign in buoyant mood under new head coach Matt Brown.
The ‘Wegians coaching ticket also includes Connacht’s John Muldoon and Brian Murphy, Brian McClearn and captain Ja Naughton remain key playing figures.
Niyi Adeolokun’s recent debut for Connacht has given Trinity a timely boost – as will their upcoming opening of the new College Park pitch – but Galwegians are favoured to come out on top on Saturday.
Recent League Meetings – The teams have not played each other since 2006
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
MALONE v BUCCANEERS, Gibson Park
Preview: The returning Alan Gaughan could be a prominent figure for his home club Buccaneers when they meet Malone in Belfast.
Competition for places at Dubarry Park is high as Tony Dolan’s youngsters embark on another tilt at promotion – they finished second to all-conquering Terenure last season.
However, Jacques Benade’s Malone look in better form of late – centre Josh Pentland and number 8 Conor Joyce in particular – and should prevail in a hard-fought game.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 5, 2013: Buccaneers 23 Malone 20, Dubarry Park; Saturday, February 1, 2014: Malone 13 Buccaneers 8, Gibson Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win
UL BOHEMIANS v BELFAST HARLEQUINS, Thomond Park back pitch
Preview: An intriguing tie to close off the Division 1B schedule as UL Bohemians entertain Adam Larkin’s Belfast Harlequins.
Both UL and Harlequins have good foundations from last season (finishing third and sixth respectively) and the sides shared one win each with Bohs triumphing 23-17 at Annacotty.
Bohs were stung by Thomond last week in the Limerick Charity Cup and a big reaction is expected – and will be needed – against a fired-up ‘Quins side.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 5, 2013: UL Bohemians 23 Belfast Harlequins 17, Annacotty; Saturday, February 1, 2014: Belfast Harlequins 20 UL Bohemians 0, Deramore Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Belfast Harlequins to win