Ten points cover the top half of the All-Ireland League Division 2C table as unbeaten Midleton continue to set the pace, with Bangor and Bruff the main movers last weekend. The Ulster derby between City of Derry and Omagh is shaping up to be the match of the day.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, November 3
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Ballina (3rd) v Thomond (8th), Heffernan Park
The concession of four tries was the big issue for Ballina following their first loss of the season – 26-18 away to Bruff. They face Limerick opposition again this afternoon, backed by the vocal Heffernan Park faithful who are helping to turn it into quite a fortress.
Connacht Under-19 hooker Billy McVann is pushing for a start after his two-try contribution at Kilballyowen Park. His throwing will have to be very accurate with Thomond able to start two locks with top flight experience, Aaron McCloskey and Mike Madden.
This game also brings together two of the division’s best out-halves over the opening month, Ballina’s Kieran Lindsay and Thomond young gun Evan Cusack who has accumulated 48 points already. However, most of the focus will be on both defence after these sides leaked a combined 50 points on the road last Saturday.
Bruff (4th) v Seapoint (7th), Kilballyowen Park
Three successive wins have Bruff in the top four and they are keen to put further distance between themselves and the mid-table clubs. There are two personnel changes to the starting XV today with winger Liam Barrett and prop Keith Laffen both coming in.
24-7 winners over Tullamore, Seapoint are finding some form after losing their opening three games. Eric Miller has made three changes up front with Eoghan Dalton returning at tighthead, Karl Bittel added to the engine room, and Mark McCoy captaining the side from blindside flanker.
Bruff only had two points to spare (10-8) when they hosted Miller’s men twelve months ago, before Seapoint ran out comprehensive 37-10 winners in the return match in Dublin. They also won 26-16 at the Limerick venue in March 2017, but Noel Davis’ current crop are unlikely to allow a repeat of that result.
City of Derry (6th) v Omagh (5th), Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road
A second Ulster derby in the space of a week for City of Derry, who had Bangor under pressure before they pulled away to hand Paul O’Kane’s side a 27-10 defeat. They will need a full 80-minute performance in order to make it three home wins in a row.
Fifth-placed Omagh, who lie a point ahead of Derry, were taught some harsh lessons by leaders Midleton in a 29-7 reversal at home. Jonny Sproule and Kaine Holden form the Accies’ second row pairing today, with Jamie Sproule unavailable, while Mervyn Edgar starts at blindside with Stuart Allen switching to number 8.
The Derry management have also made two changes in personnel, one in the back-line and one up front. Thomas Cole shifts to full-back for the injured David Lapsley, David Jackson is added to the back-three, and the unavailable Tiernan Thornton is replaced by Richie Baird in the back row.
Midleton (1st) v Malahide (9th), Towns Park
Midleton have pulled five points clear at the summit, marking themselves out as the team to beat with some dominant displays and a mostly settled starting line-up. Their smothering defence has conceded only 33 points so far – the best record across all five divisions.
Winning at Towns Park would be huge for Malahide who are recovering from a lacklustre start. They left the result behind them last November, going 14 points up before Midleton hit back to win 21-17 with the ever-influential Stuart Lee scoring 16 points for the Corkmen.
Adam Kennedy slots back in at inside centre as the only change made to the Malahide side that won 24-22 against Thomond in the fourth round. The Red Devils look to have too much firepower, though, and out-half Lee needs just six more points to hit the half-century mark for the season.
Tullamore (10th) v Bangor (2nd), Spollanstown
It does not get any easier for bottom side Tullamore who host second-placed Bangor this afternoon. Converting pressure into points has been a real problem for the Offaly men. They must improve a disappointing average of 12 points scored per game so far.
Liam Preston and Stephen Moore picked up injures during Bangor’s 27-10 comeback win over Derry, so Lewis Brett is poised to start at scrum half and Jamie Clegg is added to a back row which now includes player-head coach Michael Ferguson at number 8.
The Seasiders also draft in Adam McCusker on the right wing with Nathan Graham moving to full-back and Phil Borderick joining Mark Widdowson in midfield. The Tulliers’ selection contains one change with Eamon Bracken, brother of Peter, restored to the front row.