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All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

With Omagh pushing back into a play-off position in the last round, the top four clubs collide in Division 2C this afternoon with second-placed Ballina hosting leaders Midleton and the Accies on the road to third-placed Bruff. Ballina, Midleton and Bruff have all won five out of six so far.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, December 1

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Ballina (2nd) v Midleton (1st), Heffernan Park

Ballina’s 16th man is sure to be out in force for this top of the table showdown. Back-to-back bonus point wins in November have kept the Moy men right on Midleton’s tail, with their free-scoring form seeing them bag six tries and 39 points last time out at Seapoint.

There were braces that day for captain Fergal Tully and sparky replacement Bradley Nealon on the wing, and it will be interesting to see if Ballina stick to the winning formula with highly-rated teenager Dylan Prendergast also having an impressive league debut at out-half.

The Ireland Under-18 Schools international is set to come up against Midleton’s ever-influential number 10 Stuart Lee. He is having another fine season with 68 points already scored after six rounds. Lee touched down and kicked 13 points as the Red Devils bounced back from their loss at Malahide to beat Thomond 38-15.

Bruff (3rd) v Omagh (4th), Kilballyowen Park

Another cracking fixture in prospect with only three points separating the teams in the table. Bruff would have probably preferred to play on through the international break given their excellent run of five wins in a row, their latest seeing wingers Cian Clifford and Liam Treacy both touch down in a 15-10 triumph up at Bangor.

Their reliable lineout, tactical kicking and ability to convert pressure into points has Bruff where they are currently. Visitors Omagh have similar foundations, with the competition for places increasing each week. Returning 6ft 7in lock Jamie Sproule is hoping to start in the second row, while Stuart Ballantine’s inclusion at out-half sees Scott Elliott shift to full-back.

The Accies, who travelled down to Limerick yesterday, hammered Tullamore 55-17 in the previous round with try doubles from Luke Hanson and Neil Brown. They overcame Bruff twice last season – 14-13 at Kilballyowen Park and 19-14 at home – so the Limerick side will be all out for revenge today.

City of Derry (7th) v Thomond (9th), Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road

November was a month to forget for City of Derry and Thomond with neither side picking up any points. The three weeks since round six will have seen them both heavily targeting this game as a ‘must win’, especially Thomond who have some key fixtures in the lead up to Christmas.

If they can defeat Derry and do likewise to bottom side Tullamore next week, the Soda Cakes can extricate themselves from the bottom two. Fixing their leaky defence – the worst in the division with 186 points conceded – is top of the list. Attack-wise, talismanic out-half Evan Cusack has scored 71 points to date.

Unfortunately Derry enter this next block of matches with 15 players out injured, including one enforced retirement in Richard Baird. They know there is a huge amount riding on this result. Director of rugby Paul O’Kane wants increased physicality and a clinical edge from his side, with three changes seeing Alex McDonnell at out-half, Gerard Doherty at lock and Chris Lamberton at openside flanker.

Seapoint (8th) v Bangor (5th), Kilbogget Park

These are two more teams craving consistency as we head towards the midpoint of the season. Slow starts contributed to Bangor’s two losses in November, so they will want to be quickest out of the traps this afternoon. Liam Preston and Mark Widdowson start together at half-back with Declan Maguire and Ali Lockhart both nursing injuries.

Bangor boss Michael Ferguson, who is set to start at number 8 against eighth-placed Seapoint, wants his charges to impose themselves right from the off and stick to their game-plan, putting the lessons learned from those defeats to Bruff and Tullamore into practice.

Seapoint will have been working hard on their defence after conceding 39 points at home to Ballina. The opposite was the case for the south Dubliners as they started well against the Mayo side, with their big pack and speedy winger Dave O’Reilly on song, before faltering in the second half. Expect a big performance from them on the day of the club’s 40-year celebrations.

Tullamore (10th) v Malahide (6th), Spollanstown

There are changes in the pack and behind the scrum for Tullamore’s Leinster derby tie with mid-table Malahide. The division’s bottom side bring in props Matthew Murphy and Ger Molloy as well as blindside flanker Kevin Browne, with Karl Dunne and Sam Burns switching positions to form the half-back pairing.

Centre Brendan McSweeney and winger Eoin Farrell also come in as the Tulliers look to bounce back from a disappointing 55-17 defeat at the hands of Omagh. Malahide appear to be going in the opposite direction, their third victory on the trot seeing them score five tries against Derry (32-12).

Full-back Shane McDonald, centres Rory Kavanagh and Danie Poolman and winger Dave Mongan have all caught the eye in attack as Malahide have closed back within five points of the top four. Bobby Holland and Adam Kennedy are set to team up at half-back today, with player-coach Brendan Guilfoyle anchoring the back row.
 
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