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All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

All-Ireland League: Division 2C Previews

Omagh edged out Bruff in an epic encounter last weekend. Can they follow up today in Tullamore? ©Sandra Armstrong Photography

There are matches in all four provinces in All-Ireland League Division 2C this afternoon, with bottom side Seapoint, who have claimed back-to-back wins, travelling to leaders Ballina who are eager to bounce back from their defeat to promotion rivals Midleton.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, February 23

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

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Ballina (1st) v Seapoint (10th), Heffernan Park

With six rounds to go, the pressure is heightening at both ends of the table. Having tasted defeat for only the second time in a dozen matches, Ballina know how important today’s result is as they look to rebound quickly and send a message out to their title and promotion rivals.

Their late losing bonus point at Highfield could yet prove important, and Seapoint travel with that same mentality as every point counts in their battle against relegation. Thomond and Tullamore are only a point better off than Eric Miller’s men, with a further four-point gap to seventh-placed City of Derry.

Richie Doyle replaces Mark McDonald in the Seapoint front row, while senior newcomer Theo Oliver gets the nod on the left wing and Adam Philpott links up with former captain Gavin Hayes in the centre. Ballina’s current skipper Fergal Tully touched down twice in Ballina’s 39-23 bonus point win over ‘Point in November.

Bruff (3rd) v Bangor (6th), Kilballyowen Park

Considering they still have to play the top two, Bruff remain right in the hunt for the league title and automatic promotion. Being pipped 27-26 at Omagh last week was a setback but they are on a six-match winning streak at home where they are always formidable opposition.

The Limerick men have eight points to make up on table toppers Ballina, and are set to field an unchanged team against sixth-placed Bangor, who been playing in patches of late. They were held scoreless at home by Seapoint despite winning a number of early scrum penalties.

David Charles will line out on the right wing in a back-line reshuffle for the Seasiders. Adam Alexander and Ally Lockhart are both unavailable for the return match against Bruff who won the November tie 15-10 thanks to tries from wingers Cian Clifford and Liam Treacy.

City of Derry (7th) v Malahide (5th), Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road

City of Derry are determined to continue on an upward curve after their back-to-back wins over Midleton and Thomond – by a combined four points. Their improved cohesion and general play across the board, coupled with a steely fighting spirit, has come at just the right time.

The results have seen them climb to seventh place and they now face an acid test of their newfound form – overturning Malahide who beat them 32-12 in Dublin back in November. A rejigged Derry back-line sees Simon Logue restored to full-back, David Graham shifting to the right wing, and Alex McDonnell is replaced by Matthew Orr at out-half.

Tiernan Thornton and Craig Huey come into the hosts’ back row, a crucial battle ground this afternoon with Malahide fielding Simon Kinsella, John Shine and player-coach Brendan Guilfoyle in the loose forwards. Adam Kennedy and Shane O’Brien have positional changes in Mals’ back-line, with the latter partnering Marc Synnott at half-back.

Midleton (2nd) v Thomond (9th), Towns Park

Midleton stick with a winning formula as they field an unchanged starting XV against Thomond. The Red Devils lowered the colours of Ballina after losing to Derry the previous week, and will be targeting a strong start against the Soda Cakes who were scrapping for points at the wrong end of the table.

Second-from-bottom Thomond play the division’s leading two sides in the next seven days, but they cannot afford to pay too notice to league positions. Fellow relegation battlers Derry upset the odds against Midleton three weeks ago, and a similar result today would give Evan Cusack and his team-mates a huge boost.

Thomond are also set to start the same team that lined out in last week’s frustrating 16-13 reversal at the hands of Derry. Former Limerick minor footballer Adam Guerin, the younger brother of Garryowen scrum half Rob Guerin, retains his place at inside centre.

Tullamore (8th) v Omagh (4th), Spollanstown

Tullamore have had a cruel run of luck, losing by seven points or less in each of the last four rounds. The losing bonus points have kept the Offaly men from falling to the bottom of the table. But it does not get any easier with fourth-placed Omagh paying them a visit today.

The Accies, who hammered Tullamore 55-17 at home in November, shift Mervyn Edgar to lock to cover the absence of Jamie Sproule (knee). Richard Harper is drafted in at blindside flanker and two more changes in the backs see Adam Beattie and Eoin Murnaghan take over from Stewart McCain and Ali Beckett at scrum half and full-back respectively.

Omagh boss Phil Marshall commented: “We’re expecting a brutally hard game against Tullamore. Every game is a cup final for us now after losing at Seapoint last month. We need to impose our game on the opposition and the players have to respond mentally to being away from home.”