The fixture planners have delivered some mouth-watering match-ups for the opening day in Division 2A. Galwegians’ road to redemption begins with a trip to Denis Leamy’s Cashel, while Mick Carroll’s first game in charge of Blackrock sees them visit Highfield who fell just short of automatic promotion back in April.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, September 16
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Cashel v Galwegians, Spafield
Galwegians’ first league match since their relegation from the second tier sees them travel to Cashel. It is hugely important that they make a strong start to Brian McClearn’s second season in charge, with Armagh and Blackrock visiting Glenina in the coming weeks.
Ciaran Gaffney (Zebre), Ed O’Keeffe (Viadana) and Rory Parata (Otago) are notable absentees from last season’s back-line, and although they posted a win over city rivals Corinthians recently, a much-changed ‘Wegians side were hammered 59-5 by Buccaneers in the Connacht Senior League last time out.
New head coach Denis Leamy and Darragh Lyons, a top flight regular with Cork Constitution, are Cashel’s big signings for the new campaign. Lyons’ goal-kicking and direction from out-half helped them win the Cork Charity Shield final against Sunday’s Well, although their Munster Senior Cup hopes were ended by UCC last week.
City of Armagh v Greystones, Palace Grounds
In a twist of fate, the two promoted clubs meet on their first day of Division 2A action. With Willie Faloon now leading the coaching, City of Armagh have really hit the ground running – scoring a combined 70 points in their Ulster Premiership wins over Ballynahinch and Ballymena.
There has been minimal disruption to the Armagh squad, while Instonians’ Robert Whitten, Peter Starrett (St. Mary’s) and Spanish centre Pau Gimeno Alvarez are three of the new additions. Greystones pipped Armagh to the Division 2B title just a few months back, a key result being their 18-12 January victory at the Palace Grounds.
Another tight tussle is in prospect this weekend, and a much stiffer test for Greystones than they have been getting in Leinster Senior League Division 2. Kevin Lewis’ charges have hammered Skerries (43-7), Malahide (64-14) and Tullamore (48-3) in recent weeks.
Corinthians v Queen’s University, Corinthian Park
Only two points separated these clubs in the table last season, fifth-placed Queen’s finishing just ahead of the Galway men. It will be interesting to see what impact former Ulster head coach Neil Doak will have in his second spell at the Dub.
Doak, whose official title is ‘rugby consultant’, was involved both on and off the pitch when the Belfast students were Division 3 and Ulster Senior Cup champions back in 2010. Early season successes against Dungannon and Belfast Harlequins augur well, with the new management team utilising Mike McGurn’s expertise as a strength and conditioning coach.
This is Ene Fa’atau’s third year at the helm of Corinthians. Dave Panter and his new centre partner Liam Marmion (the now Galway-based twin brother of Connacht and Ireland star Kieran) have impressed in the early season run-outs, as has Aaron Broderick, the former Connacht underage and Shannon lock.
Highfield v Blackrock College, Woodleigh Park
Highfield have been a model of consistency under Tim Ryan, twice finishing top of Division 2B before missing out on automatic promotion from 2A last season by just two points. Their form dipped at just the wrong time with two costly defeats to Nenagh Ormond, including one in the play-offs.
The 33-year-old former Munster prop will come up against a similarly determined young coach on Saturday. Mick Carroll, the 35-year-old ex-Connacht and Racing 92 forward, is back at Blackrock as their new head coach, ably assisted by backs coach Niall Morris who sadly had to retire from rugby last year due to injury.
It was one home win apiece between these sides last season, Blackrock triumphing 29-21 before Highfield gained revenge in February (17-14). Clondalkin and junior interprovincial prop Paul McCreanor will start at tighthead for ‘Rock tomorrow, with Shane Brennan (the club’s Player of the Year in 2016/17) on the left wing.
Nenagh Ormond v Malone, New Ormond Park
Nenagh Ormond and Malone both qualified for the play-offs last season but were undone by Dolphin. Ivan Muldoon’s Nenagh fell at the final hurdle, losing out 13-6 to the Corkmen with their only points on the day coming from New Zealander Clayton Stewart, who is set for his second season as a play-making out-half.
If this game follows the same script as the 2016/17 contests, there should be plenty of points scored at New Ormond Park. Malone won a 66-point thriller against the Tipperary men in October before also taking April’s return fixture, 29-22, in which centre Michael Cartmill touched down twice.
The Cregagh Red Sox have been performing well in their early season Ulster games, putting 64 points on City of Derry last week. 20-year-old Ulster Academy prop Peter Cooper, who scored two tries on his debut against Derry, is set to start at tighthead against Nenagh, while Callum Smith and Jack Owens, who is part of the province’s senior squad this season, are two potential match winners at out-half and full-back respectively.