The first block of matches in All-Ireland League Division 2C this season rounds off with a mouth-watering top of the table clash between Midleton and Bangor, as well as a meeting of the last two All-Ireland Provincial League champions, Ballina and Malahide.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, October 13
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Ballina (3rd) v Malahide (10th), Heffernan Park
This third round clash is a real barometer of Ballina’s progress as they come up against Malahide, the club whose route they matched in winning the Round Robin series undefeated in April. They have continued that form into the new season by overturning Omagh and Tullamore in bonus point-winning style.
The Mayo men’s Kiwi winger Chris O’Neill (3 tries) and out-half Kieran Lindsay (21 points) have landed some crucial scores in the opening rounds, whereas winless Malahide are yet to hit their stride under new boss Brendan Guilfoyle. Danger man Marcus McAllister’s early brace against Omagh offered promise but consistency has been lacking in their game so far.
These clubs’ most recent meeting in April of last year was a free-flowing exhibition of running rugby. Malahide won the All-Ireland Provincial League Championship in fine style that day with a 46-38 win at Heffernan Park. The north Dubliners will be desperate to snap their current losing streak but form and home advantage points to a Ballina win.
City of Derry (6th) v Seapoint (8th), Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road
City of Derry are on a learning curve under Paul O’Kane’s new regime, and there were some harsh lessons dolled out by Bruff in last week’s 45-15 defeat. Derry’s challenge collapsed in the second half and the number of knocks picked up will ensure it has been a busy week for team physio Neal McCauley.
Seapoint are looking to draw a line under disappointing results against Thomond and Midleton, but they should improve this week with the notable move of Bain Champion to full-back. Derry afforded Bruff too much space, and if they prove as accommodating to Eric Miller’s men, Champion, Gavin Hayes and Declan Byrne are sure to take advantage.
Seapoint can draw encouragement from their most recent trip north which saw them triumph 11-6 at Bangor. Like any club recovering from relegation, Derry have put a big onus on picking up points at home and they hope to have David Graham and Simon Logue, who have both scored two tries so far, in match-winning form.
Midleton (2nd) v Bangor (1st), Towns Park
A very tough one to call given the flying starts made by both Midleton and Bangor. 10 points each so far with the best attack in the division – Bangor have scored 83 points and 13 tries – paying a visit to the most miserly defence, the Red Devils leaking just 18 points in 160 minutes of rugby.
Ulster duo Craig Gilroy and Stuart McCloskey’s influence has the Bangor back-line humming along very nicely, with Mark Widdowson (three) and Phil Broderick (two) getting among the tries. The out-half duel between Midleton general Stuart Lee (21 points) and Bangor’s Declan Maguire, the North Queensland schoolboy star, should be a compelling watch.
Louis Farnham, a try scorer against Seapoint last week, is set to come in at full-back for Midleton tomorrow, with Tom Keavney and Aidan Ware among the changes expected up front. They won 37-8 up in Bangor in March but tripped up 15-8 at home twelve months ago, a result which derailed their unbeaten start to the 2017/18 season.
Thomond (7th) v Omagh (4th), Liam Fitzgerald Park
Thomond have won their last four home league matches and will be out for revenge on Omagh who handed them a heavy 34-13 beating in last April’s promotion play-offs. The Accies have lost on their last three road trips so will be determined to make this a happy bus journey home from Limerick.
The new season has brought these clubs one win apiece so far, with Phil Marshall’s men fairing slightly better with two bonus points registered. Winger Ryan Mitchell’s scintillating try against Malahide – set up by captain Stewart McCain off a scrum on the Dubliners’ 10-metre line – showed exactly what Omagh are capable of in attack.
Thomond have gone from the high of defeating Seapoint to the low of finishing 29 points behind buoyant Bangor. If they can impose their game and take their chances tomorrow, the Soda Cakes should get back to winning ways with excellent young out-half Evan Cusack looking to add to his 28 points so far.
Tullamore (9th) v Bruff (5th), Spollanstown
Tullamore are still looking for their first win and first full 80-minute performance of the new campaign, although there were positives to take from last week’s defeat to Ballina. Man-of-the-match Kevin Browne and fellow forwards Conor Higgins and Gavin Ridgeway hit a level which their team-mates must rise to.
Four of the Tulliers’ five tries so far have been scored by member of the pack. Argentinian centre Jose Mendez is the only try scorer in an under-performing back-line. They will need to create more opportunities and finish them against a Bruff side that put 45 points on Derry.
Home advantage meant little for these sides last season when Bruff triumphed 39-10 at Spollanstown and Tullamore bounced back with a 35-5 victory at Kilballyowen Park. You would have to favour Bruff if they can continue where they left off against Derry, racking up tries through their Tony Cahill-marshalled backs and a pack led by captain John Clery.