Three of Division 2C’s leading four clubs are at home in the penultimate round before the All-Ireland League takes its Christmas break. Heffernan Park is becoming quite a fortress for new leaders Ballina who entertain Bangor in a meeting of two recent All-Ireland Provincial League champions.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, December 8
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Ballina (1st) v Bangor (5th), Heffernan Park
Ballina are up there to be shot at now, having hit top spot just seven months on from earning promotion to the senior ranks. Bangor’s own promotion bid received a timely boost with last week’s gritty 12-10 success at Seapoint.
Backing up their stirring 29-20 victory over Midleton will be a tough task for the Moysiders, but they have some quality operators including out-half/centre Kieran Lindsay, who showed his class with a 19-point haul last Saturday, and winger Darragh Whyte, who turned 21 yesterday and has four tries to his name.
Bangor player-coach Michael Ferguson told Irish Rugby TV: “It wasn’t the prettiest performance against Seapoint but there was loads of heart shown and physicality which won us the game. Hopefully we can build on that because I think we know in our squad that we have more potential than we’ve been showing.”
Malahide (6th) v Bruff (2nd), Estuary Road
Malahide’s three-match winning run was ended by Tullamore, some costly penalties proving their undoing in a 16-12 away defeat. They will face another robust pack today as Bruff, who have climbed into second spot, visit the capital for the first time this season.
Limerick man and former Malahide captain John Shine – certainly a familiar face to the Bruff squad – adds steel to the Dubliners’ back row, with Shane O’Brien and Simon Kinsella the other changes. Adam Kennedy reverts to centre, Bobby Holland takes over at scrum half and Richie Leyden will switch to number 8.
Aiming for their seventh straight victory, Bruff bring in David O’Grady at out-half for his first start of the campaign. He made his return from a long injury lay-off in the 23-17 triumph over Omagh, with back rowers Eamonn Costelloe and Mike Cooke also promoted from the bench for today’s clash.
Midleton (3rd) v City of Derry (7th), Towns Park
It will be interesting to see what reaction Midleton produce to last week’s nine-point reversal in Ballina. They also lost their last home game to Malahide, so the Red Devils will be fiercely determined to get back to winning ways on home turf.
They are set to field an unchanged team, back-boned by out-half Stuart Lee, Bryan Moore, their try-scoring hooker at Heffernan Park, and number 8 Rob Carey. They line up against a City of Derry side looking to back up a winning performance against Thomond.
Derry boss Paul O’Kane praised his players’ ‘bite and intensity’ and admitted that ‘their defensive shape won them the game’ as they took a 19-13 verdict against the Soda Cakes. Scrum half Philip Duffy and forwards Cathal Cregan, Ben Pollin and Ross Harkin all come in as starters today, with David Ferguson switching to the back row.
Omagh (4th) v Seapoint (9th), Thomas Mellon Playing Fields, 2.20pm
Given they shipped a red card and four yellows, leaving Bruff with a losing bonus point was something of a result for Omagh. Last year they achieved a season’s double over Seapoint, their round 8 opponents, with a 20-12 win in Dublin followed by a 12-0 home success.
The Accies have some potent broken-field runners, including winger Neil Brown who is looking for his fourth try in three outings. Seapoint have one of the better defences in the lower half of the table, with a high work-rate set by back rowers Peter Hipple, Zac Jungmann and Cian O’Gorman.
Eric Miller’s charges have a crunch Dublin derby coming up against Malahide, and they will want to take some momentum into that Kilbogget Park fixture. However, if Omagh maintain their discipline, captain Stewart McCain should be able to steer them to victory.
Thomond (10th) v Tullamore (8th), Liam Fitzgerald Park
Was Tullamore’s dogged 16-12 defeat of Malahide a one-off, or can they back it up at the home of the Soda Cakes? In the blue corner are a Thomond squad desperate to end their six-match losing run, which has seen them fall from fifth place to the bottom rung.
Eamon Bracken’s reward for his man-of-the-match exploits off the bench against Malahide is a starting place at tighthead. His inclusion in a strong front row is the only change Tullamore head coach John Burns has made for the trip to Limerick.
Thomond will field an unchanged pack, with their three changes confined to the back-line where Liam Brock and Dean O’Brien fill the wing berths and Richard Ryan joins David O’Halloran in midfield. Star out-half Evan Cusack continues to stand out, his 13 points against Derry moving him onto 84 overall.