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All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

A large crowd is expected at Heffernan Park on Saturday afternoon when Ballina play their first All-Ireland League match since 2005. There are fixtures in all four provinces in the opening round of Division 2C, including Malahide’s encounter with Bangor will be streamed live on Facebook.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, September 29

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Ballina v Omagh, Heffernan Park

Ballina’s Division 2C debut sees them come up against Omagh, a team they hope to emulate in making an immediate mark on their return to the senior ranks. Phil Marshall’s Accies finished second in the table last season and were a converted try away from securing back-to-back promotions.

Captain Fergal Tully and half-backs Kieran Lindsay and Mickey Murphy are three Ballina players to watch out for, with the Moy men laying down an early season marker by defeating Sligo 35-24 in the Connacht Senior League. They also ran Galwegians close, losing 36-34.

Injuries have disrupted Omagh’s build-up to the league, including a dislocated finger for winger Stephen Maclaine and a hip injury for openside Adam Longwell. However, Mervyn Edgar has made a welcome return from injury, the experienced lock having fond memories of Heffernan Park where he scored the clinching try in a 17-7 win for Omagh in the 2017 Round Robin series.

City of Derry v Tullamore, Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road

Paul O’Kane’s reign as City of Derry’s director of rugby and head coach begins in earnest. With a number of former players taking up coaching positions internally, and impressive number 8 Stephen Corr appointed as captain, O’Kane is putting solid structures in place just a few short months on from the club’s relegation.

Tullamore avoided the relegation play-off with a superb 42-12 victory over Bangor in the final round last April, a scenario they will not want to have to repeat as they, like many clubs, strive for a more consistent set of results. That looks achievable given the talent coming through the Under-20 Academy.

Derry’s list of newcomers includes a number of players who were involved with O’Kane’s former club Strabane. One of them, scrum half Phil Duffy, has shown some encouraging early season form, scoring a try in their narrow 25-19 First Trust Ulster Senior Cup quarter-final defeat to Division 1B outfit Ballynahinch.

Malahide v Bangor, Estuary Road

Malahide are hoping Brendan Guilfoyle, their new director of rugby, can guide them to promotion after spearheading Old Crescent’s historic unbeaten campaign in Division 2B last season. The 34-year-old from Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny is targeting a strong start for his new charges on the back of a recent training camp in Cambrils Sports Park near Barcelona.

Malahide’s opener against Bangor will be streamed live on www.facebook.com/malahiderfc, with last year’s corresponding fixture won by the north Dubliners 29-7 on the way to finishing fourth overall. Assistant coaches Michael Ferguson and Lewis Stevenson have taken charge at Bangor after long-serving head coach Jason Morgan’s appointment as Head of Rugby at RBAI.

Australian recruit Declan Maguire and Liam Preston, the Bay of Plenty U-19 half-back, are among Bangor’s new signings. Teenage out-half Oscar Yandall, an Ulster Schools Senior Cup winner with Campbell College in March, is another young player to watch out for, and former Ulster Under-19 forward Stephen Moore has been earning plaudits for his early season performances in the back row.

Midleton v Bruff, Towns Park

The only provincial derby in the division’s opening round pits Midleton against Bruff. The Limerick men did the double over the Red Devils last December, winning 17-13 at home and 19-12 in east Cork, but it took a tense 24-17 play-off victory over Bandon in May to salvage Bruff’s senior status.

Determined to bounce back from a disappointing year, Bruff captain John Clery told Irish Rugby TV: “Obviously we had a tooth-and-nail finish to last season with Bandon. Some of the senior players really stepped up. We’re really hoping we can bring it on now, we’ve recruited quite well over the summer and we’re looking confident for the season ahead.”

Midleton have been hovering around mid-table in the last three seasons, finishing fifth on two occasions. They lost half of their games in 2017/18, picking up a division-high seven losing bonus points. If they can turn a couple of those defeats into wins, a top-four finish looks possible.

Thomond v Seapoint, Liam Fitzgerald Park

Eight points separated these clubs at the end of last season, Thomond finishing in third place and Seapoint sixth overall. The Soda Cakes were well beaten by Omagh in the promotion play-offs, going down 34-13, and James Hickey will be hoping to improve some key areas of their game in his second season in charge.

Influential backs Ger Finucane and Darragh O’Neill have joined Shannon and Young Munster respectively, but Thomond’s new recruits include experienced top-flight locks Mike Madden and Aaron McCloskey, along with Garryowen winger Sam Gleeson and scrum half Aaron Rice who bolster a young back-line.

Seapoint head coach Eric Miller wants his side to ‘kick on’ from being mid-table challengers, although he notes that they are ‘notoriously slow starters’ to the league campaign. The south Dubliners have some promising players coming through, including winger Matthew Jungmann who helped the Leinster Under-19s retain their Interprovincial title this month.