Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League has a new look to it with Dolphin and UL Bohemians dropping down from the second tier and Old Crescent and Navan both earning promotion last season. Topping the bill in today’s first round is the meeting of UL and Highfield, second-place finishers the last two years, in Limerick.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2A: Saturday, September 29
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Blackrock College v Galwegians, Stradbrook
Mick Carroll will want his second season as Blackrock head coach to start as his first ended. They stunned high-flying Highfield with a 25-14 defeat at Stradbrook last April, a result which guaranteed ‘Rock’s divisional status and showed what sort of potential they have.
New captain Job Langbroek misses their first round match against Galwegians, so Hugh Doyle skippers them from the second row. ‘Several strategic signings’ and ‘a summer of hard training’ has Carroll’s side ‘in a good position to achieve our aim of promotion’, according to back rower Langbroek.
Two Galwegians teams are making the trip to the capital for an eagerly-awaited double header between the clubs’ men’s and women’s sides. ‘Wegians captain Anthony Ryan told Galway Bay FM: “We didn’t start off the best last year, then by Christmas time you’re scrambling around the bottom of the table. If you can start well then you can start looking upwards, so it’s just about getting a couple of wins on the board early doors.”
Cashel v Dolphin, Spafield
The first of two juicy Munster derbies as Dolphin begin life in Division 2A under the new coach-and-captain tandem of Robbie Doyle and Daryl Foley. With the Cashel pack often in formidable form at home, the Corkmen will need a big shift from their starting back row of Rob O’Herlihy, James Vaughan and John Fitzgerald.
The two sides met recently in the second round of the Munster Senior Cup with Cashel running out convincing 32-6 winners. James Kendrick, Tommy Anglim, Keith Melbourne and Niall Fitzgerald all touched down in that game for Denis Leamy’s side who narrowly missed on a top-four finish last season.
Cashel lost their first two home league matches last September, so they will want to be much quicker out of the blocks this time around. A strong start is also vital for Dolphin’s hopes, with promoted sides Navan and Old Crescent visiting Irish Independent Park in the coming weeks before a Cork derby trip to Highfield.
Navan v Nenagh Ormond, Balreask Old
Alan Kingsley, who guided Navan to back-to-back promotions before joining the Dragons as skills and kicking coach, is a tough act for Ray Moloney to follow. The new Navan head coach will not be too concerned by last week’s 22-3 Leinster Senior League Division 2 semi-final defeat, with the wider squad getting game-time and new combinations tested.
Nenagh Ormond have unfinished business after losing promotion play-off finals to Dolphin and City of Armagh the last two years. Their departing head coach Ivan Muldoon has been replaced by Dermot Dunne, while their playing squad has lost some key men in Clayton Stewart, Conor Muldoon, Willie O’Connor and player-backs coach Derek Corcoran.
Peter Coman and Nicky Irwin are set to start at half-back for Nenagh today, with versatile forward John Healy switching to hooker from the back row. This is the highest level of All-Ireland League rugby that the Meath men have reached and it would be a big statement for them to lower the colours of Nenagh on the opening day.
Queen’s University v Old Crescent, Dub Lane
The first league visitors to Dub Lane in Queen’s 150th anniversary season are Old Crescent, the reigning Division 2B champions. There were coaching changes at both clubs in the summer with Derek Suffern now guiding the Belfast students and Matt Brown, who was part of the coaching set-up last year, stepping up as head coach at Crescent.
The Limerick club take a pretty settled squad into the third tier, the big absentees being player-coach Brendan Guilfoyle, who has joined Malahide, and Sean Monaghan who is currently playing in Wales. Shannon’s Donal Murphy, returning back rower Jack Donovan and Argentinian recruit Nahuel Dovalo have come in for the new campaign.
Queen’s have achieved some impressive early season results in Ulster, defeating Ballymena, Banbridge and Ballynahinch already. They are due to have the experienced Ritchie McMaster back at out-half this afternoon, and have recruited well with versatile former ‘Hinch prop Andy Weir and ex-Omagh back rower James Catterson already making their mark.
UL Bohemians v Highfield, University of Limerick 4G pitch
An acid test first up for UL Bohemians following their relegation from the second tier. They do not come much harder in Division 2A than Highfield who have finished second in each of the last two seasons. Munster Senior Cup wins over Nenagh Ormond (34-10) and Old Crescent (29-24) have Tim Ryan’s men in good early season fettle.
Highfield crossed for ten tries in those two games, including two each from Lorcan Kavanagh and Paul Buckley. Second row Fintan O’Sullivan, a Division 2A Player of the Year nominee last term, has take over the captaincy from Miah Cronin, who will start at number 8 today in a back row completed by Colm and Cathal Gallagher.
UL Bohs’ early season results – losses to Nenagh (27-17) and Cashel (23-16) – would not inspire confidence, but the Red Robins will line out with a solid spine of players this afternoon that includes Colin Ryan, Harry Fleming and Joe Murray in the backs, and Joey Conway, Joe Bennett, Ed Kelly, James Ryan and Brian Walsh up front.