Energia All-Ireland League rugby returns this weekend with Division 1A champions Cork Constitution hosting Munster rivals Garryowen, while the first of this year’s top-flight student derbies pits UCC against Dublin University, who broke into the top four in thrilling fashion last season.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1A: Saturday, October 5
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BALLYNAHINCH v TERENURE COLLEGE, Ballymacarn Park
Preview: Ballynahinch’s early season results have been up and down, their qualification for the Ulster Senior Cup semi-finals blotted by a trio of Ulster Rugby Premiership defeats. The latest one saw them lose 34-28 last Saturday to Banbridge, despite an improved second half performance.
Former Ulster Academy player Sean O’Hagan, one of ‘Hinch’s new recruits, is in the out-half hot seat, and Brian McLaughlin will be looking for a steady start on the Co. Down club’s return to the top flight – particularly with some of their Ulster contingent required for Celtic Cup duty.
Sean Skehan’s new coaching tenure at Terenure received an early boost with last week’s Leinster Senior League title win – the three O’Neill brothers, Kevin, Stephen and Mark, still very much to the fore. Having fought back brilliantly to avoid relegation last season, it will be interesting to see where ‘Nure fit in the 2019/20 pecking order.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 7, 2015: Ballynahinch 6 Terenure College 30, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, January 30, 2016: Terenure College 9 Ballynahinch 20, Lakelands Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Terenure College to win
CORK CONSTITUTION v GARRYOWEN, Temple Hill
Preview: Cork Constitution begin their Division 1A title defence with a mouth-watering Munster derby. They had 24 points to spare when they last hosted Garryowen in the league, but it should be a much closer affair tomorrow judging by their recent Munster Senior Cup encounter.
Three Aidan Moynihan penalties gave Con a hard-fought 9-7 quarter-final victory, cancelling out Andrew O’Byrne’s 19th-minute try. Half-backs Tomas Quinlan and Ryan Foley are back with the league champions, with 24-year-old talent Quinlan returning after a year with French club Narbonne.
Garryowen only won half of their league matches last term, finishing fifth in the table and a full 14 points behind the last of the semi-final qualifiers, Dublin University. Conan Doyle’s charges really need to bounce out of the blocks, particularly as they face three of last year’s play-off sides in the opening rounds.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 3, 2018: Cork Constitution 27 Garryowen 3, Temple Hill; Saturday, March 2, 2019: Garryowen 7 Cork Constitution 15, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v UCC, College Park
Preview: Contrasting fortunes for these College teams last season with Dublin University breaking new ground as fourth-place finishers, and UCC needing a play-off final win over Old Wesley to retain their Division 1A status. The youth of Trinity’s squad last year means almost all of them are back for more.
Former captain Colm Hogan misses out through injury, but Tony Smeeth’s youngsters start the new campaign with a nicely-balanced side led by new skipper James Hickey. With Rowan Osborne called up by Leinster, Louis O’Reilly, a 2018 Leinster Senior Schools Cup winner with Blackrock College, gets the nod at scrum half.
UCC were pipped 31-29 in an eight-try thriller on their most recent trip to College Park. The Cork outfit have also held onto the majority of their squad, including prolific young out-half James Taylor who amassed 188 points last season as the division’s top scorer.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 1, 2018: UCC 28 Dublin University 14, the Mardyke; Saturday, February 16, 2019: Dublin University 31 UCC 29, College Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dublin University to win
LANSDOWNE v UCD, Aviva Stadium back pitch
Preview: The Lansdowne and UCD players will grace the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch tomorrow, with former captain Kevin Croke making his league debut as UCD head coach. He is assisted this season by Brett Igoe and Mark McGroarty, while Jonny Guy replaces fellow back rower Alex Penny as captain.
It is as you were at Lansdowne with Mike Ruddock beginning his ninth year at the helm. Former UCD players Tim Foley and Mark Flanagan will make their first league appearances for the headquarters club, the latter having played professionally in the second row for Leinster, Saracens and Munster.
Fellow newcomers Neal Moylett, Ross Barron, who partners Foley at half-back, and James Reynolds are also part of a youthful Lansdowne team, along with former Ashbourne and Leinster Under-18 Clubs lock/flanker Joey Szpara who is a fresh out of the Under-20 grade.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, October 19, 2018: UCD 6 Lansdowne 20, Belfield Bowl; Saturday, March 23, 2019: Lansdowne 57 UCD 31, Aviva Stadium back pitch
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win
YOUNG MUNSTER v CLONTARF, Tom Clifford Park
Preview: Beaten finalists last May, Clontarf get back on the horse for another shot at their third league crown. Aaron Dundon returns to the coaching team after a two-year spell at Ulster, while former St. Mary’s College pair Sean Kearns and Jack Aungier and ex-Ireland Sevens international Gearoid Lyons are new members of the playing squad.
They have lost the McGrath brothers, Mick and Rob, to fellow Dublin clubs and both Declan Adamson and Sean O’Brien to the Connacht Academy, but ‘Tarf remain among the title favourites. This is a sizable test first up, heading to Young Munster’s Greenfields fortress.
Coached again by Gearoid Prendergast, the Cookies have built some encouraging early-season momentum by reaching the Munster Senior Cup and Limerick Charity Cup finals. Skilful out-half Evan Cusack has joined from relegated Thomond and could turn out to be an excellent signing. UL Bohemians centre Harry Fleming has also made the move.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 15, 2018: Young Munster 11 Clontarf 17, Tom Clifford Park; Saturday, January 19, 2019: Clontarf 24 Young Munster 20, Castle Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win