A repeat of one of the relegation/promotion play-offs from last season tops the bill in Ulster Bank League Division 1B this weekend, while newcomers Naas and UCC will both be looking to make home advantage count in round 1.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, September 17
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYNAHINCH v BUCCANEERS, Ballymacarn Park
Preview: Buccaneers return to the scene of their Division 1A relegation/promotion play-off defeat last April. They will look to right the wrongs of that 41-19 reversal, marshalled by captain Kolo Kiripati who helped them recently retain their Connacht Senior League crown.
Ballynahinch were on the lookout for a new head coach, but Derek Suffern remains in place as they bid to bounce straight back to the top flight.
Steve Macauley and Jerry Cronin return to the club, while Paul Pritchard, last year’s captain who has moved to Old Belvedere, David McGuigan (knee reconstruction) and the retired Adam Craig head up ‘Hinch’s list of absentees.
Recent League Meetings – Relegation/Promotion play-off – Saturday, May 3, 2014: Ballynahinch 35 Buccaneers 13, Ballymacarn Park; Relegation/Promotion play-off – Saturday, April 23, 2016: Ballynahinch 41 Buccaneers 19, Ballymacarn Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Buccaneers to win
DOLPHIN v UL BOHEMIANS, Irish Independent Park
Preview: New Dolphin head coach David Corkery, aided by Denis Hurley, is aiming to put in improved structures and ‘consolidate’ the club’s position in Division 1B this season.
Equally, there is a fresh look to UL Bohemians. Former forwards coach Christy Neilan is now head coach and the squad, bolstered by returning ex-captain Ed Kelly, have moved base into the University campus. “The facilities are second to none and it’s very exciting for the club going forward,” admitted Neilan.
Dolphin and Bohs were both knocked out of the Munster Senior Cup last week, losing to Highfield and Cork Con respectively, so this league opener could be a real dogfight.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 26, 2015: UL Bohemians 13 Dolphin 28, Thomond Park back pitch; Saturday, March 5, 2016: Dolphin 16 UL Bohemians 18, Irish Independent Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dolphin to win
NAAS v GALWEGIANS, Forenaughts
Preview: A huge day for Naas as they entertain Galwegians in their opening Division 1B fixture, and a moment to savour for their player-coach Johne Murphy.
Murphy, who has recruited his old school friend Fionn Carr fresh from the professional ranks, said: “It’s a balancing act for us, now that we are up among the top 20 teams in the country. We want to do as well as possible but we must continue to have that club/community feel about it.”
Former second row Brian McClearn has taken up the coaching reins at Galwegians, who fielded a tasty half-back pairing of Rory Parata and Conor Lowndes against Buccs recently.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, February 15, 2014: Galwegians 44 Naas 17, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
SHANNON v BALLYMENA, Thomond Park pitch
Preview: Entering his second season in charge of Shannon, Marcus Horan now has former captain Tom Hayes involved as lineout/defence coach. Another familiar face, ex-international prop Tony Buckley, is part of the wider squad, while new lock Riley Winter, who played for Australia Under-20s in 2015, could make a big impact.
Andy Graham’s Braidmen finished third last season, well behind the leading two, but they have enough squad depth to push again for promotion.
Among their Ulster allocation are promising young forwards Matthew Rea, Michael Lagan and Adam McBurney, with Graham stating: “On paper we’ve a very strong squad – not many guys that are over the age of 25 – and if we can get it together, it will be an exciting season. The players are hungry to do well.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 3, 2015: Shannon 19 Ballymena 22, Coonagh; Saturday, February 27, 2016: Ballymena 30 Shannon 23, Eaton Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballymena to win
UCC v OLD WESLEY, the Mardyke
Preview: UCC warmed up for their first league tie by beating Bruff 42-24 in the Munster Senior Cup, with full-back Chris McAuliffe scoring two of their six tries.
Rising up from Division 2A, the Cork youngsters won seven of their nine home games in 2015/16. Their form at the Mardyke could be vital as the year progresses.
Lansdowne scrum half Adam Griggs has joined Old Wesley as backs coach, and new captain Darren Horan wants the Donnybrook dwellers to use the ‘invaluable experience’ of missing out on the play-offs last season to drive them on.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 7, 2013: UCC 9 Old Wesley 13, the Mardyke; Saturday, February 14, 2015: Old Wesley 34 UCC 12, Donnybrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UCC to win