Division 2C front runners Malahide, Midleton and Bangor are all on the road in this weekend’s second round. Midleton will visit Omagh whose first All-Ireland League home game in 17 years brings back memories of their two qualifier wins over the Corkmen from 1997.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, September 23
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Omagh (4th) v Midleton (2nd), Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
Omagh were triumphant on their return to All-Ireland senior rugby last Saturday, winning 14-13 at Bruff thanks to man-of-the-match Scott Elliott’s 67th-minute penalty. But head coach Phil Marshall warned: “We certainly have to learn quick and will be anticipating some fierce battles from what we’ve seen so far.”
The Accies’ first home game sees them come up against a Midleton side that overcame Seapoint 20-10 in round 1, with 15 of their points supplied by ace place-kicker Stuart Lee. Rory Horgan, who started at inside centre, and Michael ‘Yorkie’ Cronin were among their best performers on the day.
Lee Warnock will start at full-back in Omagh’s only change, replacing the sidelined Lee Murphy (concussion). Look out for the versatile Mervyn Edgar, a former captain who is in his 13th season and who has played in all three rows of the Omagh pack.
Sligo (5th) v Malahide (1st), Hamilton Park
Sligo only had a point to spare last week against Thomond, and with their round 2 visitors Malahide flying high at the top of the table, Ross Mannion’s charges will need a much-improved performance in order to go two from two.
Captain Shane Boyle will want Sligo to lay down a marker up front, and his second row battle with Malahide’s Dave Nolan will be one to watch. The league newcomers blitzed Bective 55-7 to move straight to the summit, with hooker Damien Butler and replacement winger Gary Robb scoring braces.
Sligo head coach Mannion said: “We lost our first two games last year but once we got a string of wins together, there was no stopping up really. We just unfortunately fell in the semi-final. A lot has been learnt from that, the bulk of the squad is the same and we’ve two experienced players back with us, Mark Butler and James Wilson, as well as Matt Cosgrove who had ACL surgery after his injury last year.”
Seapoint (9th) v Bangor (3rd), Kilbogget Park
Seapoint will be annoyed that they missed out on a losing bonus point away to Midleton. They had a strong two-try finish in the 20-10 defeat, but a scoreless first half left them with too much to do. The injury-enforced loss of Kiwi recruit Bain Champion for three months is also a significant setback.
Bangor’s graph is on the rise judging by last Saturday’s 21-15 comeback victory over Tullamore. Back-to-back road trips to Seapoint and Midleton will tell us a lot more about the ambitions of Jason Morgan’s men, whose young winger Chris Jordan – a former Sullivan Upper captain – touched down on his league debut.
It was one win apiece between these sides last season, Bangor triumphing 20-13 at home with their scrum proving an important factor, while Seapoint, who are captained again this year by centre Gavin Hayes, gained revenge in February with a two-try 15-3 success in Killiney.
Tullamore (8th) v Thomond (7th), Spollanstown
Tullamore have a few issues to iron out ahead of the visit of a Thomond side rebounding from relegation. They mixed the good with the bad against Bangor, sprinting into an early 12-0 lead – new number 8 Lemeki Vaipulu got on the scoresheet – before losing their way and eventually being beaten 21-15.
Head coach John Burns, whose daughter Megan is a star of the Ireland Under-18 Women’s Sevens team, knows the importance of the Tulliers putting in a complete 80-minute performance in their first home game, particularly in terms of gaining some early season momentum.
Although they were pipped 13-12 by Sligo in round 1, new Thomond boss James Hickey will have been encouraged by the Soda Cakes’ overall performance. Their zippy winger Darragh O’Neill is already getting amongst the tries with scores against UL Bohemians and Sligo.
Bective Rangers (10th) v Bruff (6th), Donnybrook, 6.30pm
Bective’s opening round trip to Division 2C debutants Malahide turned into a ‘nightmare on Estuary Road’. They conceded seven tries and 55 points during the final hour of the game and are much better than that lopsided scoreline suggests.
The recently-relegated Rangers have their second evening kick-off here, hoping that home advantage pays off against a Bruff team that are smarting from a one-point reversal against Omagh. As ever the set piece battle will be fiercely competitive, with Bective given some tough lessons by Malahide.
Bruff’s two wingers Paidi Kilcoyne and Eric Finn crossed for first quarter tries against Omagh, but Eoin Cahill’s side will need to improve their defence and discipline for what is sure to be a closely-fought contest on the 4G pitch.