Host club Wanderers and Greystones have the honour of launching the All-Ireland League season tonight when they meet on the Aviva Stadium’s main pitch. The Division 2B opener on Saturday commanding most of the attention is the clash between MU Barnhall and Rainey Old Boys, who both finished in the top three last season.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2B: Saturday, September 29
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Wanderers v Greystones, Aviva Stadium main pitch, tonight, 8pm
It will be a proud moment for second row Brian Quill when he leads Wanderers out for their annual league opener on the Aviva Stadium’s main pitch. Patrick Collins takes the reins as head coach, with Eoin Sheriff, the former Leinster, Saracens and Ireland Under-20 lock, installed as their new forwards coach.
Greystones found the going tough towards the end of last season, suffering relegation from Division 2A at the hands of Navan. Kevin Lewis’ charges gained some revenge last Friday with a well-judged 22-3 win over the Meath men in their Leinster Senior League Division 2 semi-final clash.
‘Stones have lost flying winger Jack Keating to Old Belvedere, but still possess plenty of firepower with captain Andrew Kealy marshalling the back-line. Wanderers, who lost 12-6 to Old Wesley in last week’s semi-final, also have a quick-witted backs division, so tonight’s attendance should be treated to some fast-paced and entertaining rugby.
Dungannon v Skerries, Stevenson Park
A fresh start for both clubs who finished eighth and seventh respectively last season, losing 11 games each. Dungannon head coach Andy Hughes believes there will be a better balance to his team this year, with French lock Guilhem Lopez and Argentinian centre Luca Avelli among their new signings.
Skerries book-ended their 2017/18 campaign with wins over Dungannon, triumphing 29-27 at Stevenson Park twelve months ago and 32-17 at home in April. It will be interesting to note the progress of some of the Goats’ All-Ireland Under-18 Cup final team from last year, with the likes of centre Mark Mulcahy and locks Paddy Fay-Watt and Joe Mulvany already making their senior debuts.
Kiwi number 8 Jonah Mau’u was a standout performer for Dunngannon last term and he looks in good early season form, chipping in with two tries against City of Derry in the SONI Ulster Premiership Division 2 last Saturday. Jonny Patton and Ulster player Peter Nelson are assisting Hughes, as former player-backs coach Seamus Mallon has stepped down.
Corinthians v Belfast Harlequins, Corinthian Park
Having dropped down from Division 2A at the end of last season, Corinthians’ rebuilding mission begins under new head coach JP Cooney, the 49-times capped Connacht prop. He is excited about his young squad’s potential, which is typified by talismanic lock and captain Aaron Broderick.
“There’s a concentration on what we can do and getting our own stuff right, rather than looking at other teams. The division is a bit of an unknown quantity to me,” Cooney told Galway Bay FM. “I reckon if we can execute the kind of game-plan we’ll be looking to play, we’ll be a very tough team to beat this year.”
Following successive relegations, Belfast Harlequins stopped the rot with a crucial play-off win over Omagh at the tail-end of last season. Number 8 Ben Alexander and scrum half Connor Young have returned to ‘Quins and will start in Galway, along with centre Ben Sloan, who has recovered from a long-term knee injury, and new Kiwi lock Troy Webber.
MU Barnhall v Rainey Old Boys, Parsonstown
Just five months on from their promotion play-off semi-final at Hatrick Park, MU Barnhall and Rainey Old Boys lock horns again. Finishing behind unbeaten Old Crescent last season, these two clubs could emerge as the front runners for the automatic promotion berth come the spring.
A late conversion denied Rainey in the promotion decider against Navan, and head coach John Andrews will have been bottling up that hurt over the summer. Paul Pritchard takes over the captaincy and former Ulster lock Tim Barker will feature at number 8 this weekend. Kiwi recruit Connor Fitzsimons makes his league debut in midfield.
Barnhall lost that play-off semi-final 26-14 to the Magherafelt side but Parsonstown is a real fortress for the Blue Bulls, who were unbeaten at home during the 2017/18 league campaign. Stalwart number 8 Tom McKeown has been reinstalled as Barnhall captain for the club’s 50th year in existence.
Sunday’s Well v Sligo, Irish Independent Park
Sunday’s Well have had to quickly park last weekend’s disappointing 36-0 Munster Senior Cup quarter-final defeat at home to Shannon. The new 3G modified pitch at Irish Independent Park should ensure some free-flowing and high-scoring encounters, and newly-promoted Sligo will certainly come to play.
Sligo have strengthened their squad with the addition of Australian back rower Jason Havea, who played for the Melbourne Harlequins and Melbourne Rising, and the returning Tom Gormley and Matt Davey. Defeating Galwegians 31-13 recently in the Connacht Senior League will have boosted confidence levels.
New head coach Paddy Pearson told the Sligo Champion: “We will be pushing for the top four. Really, there’s no point in entering a league and not trying to go as far as you can. There’s no weak teams (in the division) – they’re all solid – and we have to be at our best to get where we want to be. So it’s going to pay off to stay consistent.”