There were try-scoring bonus points achieved in all five opening games in All-Ireland League Division 2C. Another action-packed afternoon’s rugby awaits in round two, including table-topping Midleton’s trip to Seapoint.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, October 6
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Bangor (2nd) v Thomond (5th), Upritchard Park
A cracking contest in prospect here with second-placed Bangor looking bang in form – fresh from their head-turning 44-19 bonus point victory at Malahide – and James Hickey’s Thomond not far behind them, having seen off the challenge of Seapoint 33-22 with young out-half Evan Cusack contributing 18 points with the boot.
There was high praise for the go-forward ball provided by Bangor back rowers James Henley and Mike Weir last Saturday, and head coach Michael Ferguson will want more of the same back on home soil. Bay of Plenty Under-19 player Liam Preston, who made his debut off the bench in Dublin, will don the number 9 jersey for the Seasiders as fellow teenage talent Oscar Yandall is unavailable.
The Soda Cakes have made two personnel changes to their selection, as Liam Brock and Conor Radcliffe come in on the left wing and in the second row respectively. Adam Malone moves to the outside centre berth where he links up with Richie Ryan, the scorer of Thomond’s third and final try in the dying minutes of the Seapoint game.
Bruff (10th) v City of Derry (3rd), Kilballyowen Park
Bruff’s challenge very much petered out after Midleton scored three unanswered tries in the second half of their 35-8 first round success. An ill-timed try coughed up before half-time left the Limerick men under increasing pressure and second row Neilus Keogh’s 21st-minute try was the only time they got over the line.
It may take Bruff a few more weeks to fully gel with Taylor Jones, former captain of New Zealand club Greerton Marist, getting game-time in the back row and Liam Barrett, who has joined from Garryowen, starting on the left wing. Jones and company face a Derry back row trio – Craig Huey, Tiarnan Thornton and captain Stephen Corr – that earned plenty of praise for their impact against Tullamore.
Paul O’Kane’s Derry side are looking much sharper and better conditioned that the 2017/18 model. Conall Gill will start at out-half this week after impressing during his try-scoring cameo in the 29-15 defeat of Tullamore. Alex McDonnell, the player he replaced, is nursing a knee injury and is sidelined for the trip to Co. Limerick – as are Callum Robinson (concussion) and Richard Baird (knee).
Omagh (6th) v Malahide (9th), Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
Although content to pick up a losing bonus point on the road, Omagh’s 23-19 loss to Division 2C newcomers Ballina came at a cost. Five players picked up injuries during the course of the match. Head coach Phil Marshall is planning for the visit of Malahide without unavailable centre Luke Hanson, Stephen Maclaine (dislocated finger) and Ali Beckett (fractured cheekbone).
Despite the injuries, the Accies are set to field an unchanged pack for their first home league outing. Adam Beattie is drafted in at scrum half as captain Stewart McCain is switching to the centre to cover for the absent Hanson. Neil Brown gets the nod on the right wing.
Ulster opposition again for Malahide who were given quite a beating at home by Bangor. That will have stung Brendan Guilfoyle and his players, so Omagh can expect something of a backlash. There is plenty of high-level AIL experience in the visitors’ side with Richie Leyden, Dave Nolan, Bobby Holland, Adam Kennedy and Shane McDonald all involved.
Seapoint (7th) v Midleton (1st), Kilbogget Park
Seapoint have their Kiwi play-maker Bain Champion back at out-half for the visit of first round leaders Midleton. Champion missed the 33-22 defeat at Thomond, and other changes see Tom O’Reilly picked on the left wing and Andrew Heffernan and Cian Cunningham both starting in the front row.
Champion’s presence gives Eric Miller’s young side a cutting edge in attack, and they have some fine finishers in the outside backs. They were 16-10 winners when Midleton visited Kilbogget Park in last season’s final round, a result which confirmed ‘Point’s league status.
The Corkmen are expected to field an unchanged team following last week’s 27-point victory over Bruff. Number 10 Stuart Lee, who has already chalked up 15 points, is set for an intriguing head-to-head with Champion, while Jon Gardiner and Michael ‘Yorkie’ Cronin are sure to bring a physical edge to the forward exchanges.
Tullamore (8th) v Ballina (4th), Spollanstown
Karl Dunne and Argentinian signing Jose Mendez are set to form a new centre partnership for Tullamore’s first home league game. Barry Bracken also steps in for forwards coach Lemeki Vaipulu in the back row, having impressed off the bench during last week’s 29-15 defeat at the hands of Derry.
Aided by a man-of-the-match performance from centre Alex Corduff, Ballina overcame Omagh in a thrilling finish to their first All-Ireland League fixture since 2005. Repeating that level of performance and result is the challenge now facing the Moy men – and doing so away from their Heffernan Park fortress.
Ballina director of rugby Daragh Quinn said: “We were absolutely amazed by the support we had last Saturday and to say that it made a difference would be a huge understatement. There’s many occasions during games when players need to hear encouragement from the sidelines and that paid dividends for us against Omagh. We’re hoping to see as many supporters as possible travel to Tullamore.”