Ulster Bank League debutants Malahide have the honour of hosting the new season’s first game as they entertain Bective at Estuary Road, while there will be plenty of interest in Omagh’s visit to Bruff which marks their return to All-Ireland senior rugby after a 17-year absence.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, September 16
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Malahide v Bective Rangers, Estuary Road, Friday, 7.30pm
With Mike Ross taking up a player/scrum coach role, Malahide have a Dublin derby to launch them into the Ulster Bank League. The club’s first ever game at this level sees Bective Rangers, who suffered relegation last season, make the trip to the ambitious Division 2C new boys.
Under Rick Evans’ tutelage, Malahide have won Leinster Junior League Divisions 1B and 1A in the last two seasons and they achieved senior status last spring with a clean sweep in the Round Robin series. Evans stated: “We are not going up for ‘a look’. We think we have the population base and infrastructure to be one of the top Dublin clubs.”
Bective were agonisingly just a point away from staying up in Division 2B last term. It is a fresh start for them with new coach Nigel Osborne, together with the returning Fergal Campion. Captain Eoin Sweeney said: “We’ve new coaches and a host of new players. I’m confident that we can bounce straight back.”
Bangor v Tullamore, Upritchard Park
Bangor finished five points clear of the relegation zone in their first year back in the league. “The honeymoon period is over and we now know the challenges facing us,” said captain Phil Whyte, whose side will certainly benefit from the addition of former Ulster and Connacht lock Lewis Stevenson as player-coach.
Tullamore are round 1 visitors to Upritchard Park and are another club with new coaches on board – John Burns and former Nenagh Ormond back rower Lemeki Vaipulu. The Offaly men will be doubly determined to gain promotion after losing last April’s play-off final to Rainey.
Tullamore did the double on Bangor last season, winning 44-17 at home and 22-10 away to Jason Morgan’s charges. Both teams are coming off heavy provincial league defeats to Greystones and Dungannon respectively, so it will be interesting to see who rebounds in better fettle this weekend.
Bruff v Omagh, Kilballyowen Park
A novel pairing as Omagh make the long trip to south Limerick for the club’s first All-Ireland League match in 17 years. Phil Marshall’s young squad stunned Boyne 29-9 to secure their place in Division 2C, and last week’s 29-19 Ulster Premiership loss at Rainey shows they are in decent early season form.
The top four was frustratingly out of Bruff’s reach last April, the fifth-place finishers paying the price for a three-match losing run in the opening rounds. Last week’s 24-0 Munster Senior Cup win over Sunday’s Well suggests that Eoin Cahill’s men are poised for a solid league start.
It will be quite a baptism of fire for the Accies with four league matches over the course of the next month. They have brought in Dungannon number 8 Sam McConnell and Queen’s duo Peter Eves and Luke Hanson, as well as returning centre Lee Warnock who is known in soccer circles for his spells playing with Ardstraw and Dergview.
Midleton v Seapoint, Towns Park
Midleton would have been glad to see the back of the last season, losing in the last four rounds and ending up only five points above the relegation zone. They had six losing bonus points during the campaign which shows they are not far away from producing better results.
The Red Devils’ newcomers include Netherlands Under-20 international Martijn Korterik, Dylan Purvis (Sunday’s Well) and Aidan Ware (Old Christians), who has been a regular in the Munster Junior team. They will be hoping to banish memories of last season’s two defeats to Seapoint – 19-17 at home and 32-26 up to Dublin.
As well as some returning players and Under-20s enhancing his squad selection, Seapoint head coach Eric Miller has recruited New Zealander Bain Champion, who won the Hankins Shield with Old Boys-Marist in July. He can play at scrum half or out-half.
Thomond v Sligo, Liam Fitzgerald Park
James Hickey, who was formerly part of the Shannon and UL Bohemians coaching set-ups, is the new Thomond head coach as the Soda Cakes look to bounce back from relegation last term. Two wins in 18 rounds was a demoralising return as they slid out of Division 2B.
Sligo is a tough draw for Thomond’s first game, the Connacht outfit finishing as runners-up back in April and missing out in the promotion/relegation play-offs. Ross Mannion’s men look determined to go one better, already posting wins over Galwegians and Corinthians in recent weeks.
20-year-old scrum half Ryan Feehily, who has earned a place in the Connacht Academy, is an example of the talent coming through the Sligo ranks. Thomond have some very good youngsters too, including Colin Madden and Evan Cusack, who played for Ardscoil Ris in last March’s Munster Schools Senior Cup final. Cusack’s brother Declan, the former Munster player, also started his club rugby career at Thomond.