There are four new clubs in Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A this season, with MU Barnhall and Rainey Old Boys fresh from promotion and Buccaneers and Ballymena both aiming to bounce back from relegation.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2A: Saturday, October 5
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BUCCANEERS v QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, Dubarry Park
An immediate opportunity for Buccaneers to turn over Queen’s University, the team that consigned them to relegation last April. Reliable out-half Richie McMaster kicked 15 points in the students’ 30-24 play-off semi-final victory over Buccs, but they lost out to Navan (34-19) in the promotion decider.
Bouncing back from successive relegations is a very tough assignment in Peter O’Donnell’s second season in charge at Dubarry Park. His young and developing squad, led by Shane Layden, is still finding its feet, and they surrendered their Connacht Senior League crown when losing 45-24 at home to Ballina recently.
Queen’s captain David Whitten was one of the players to impress in their 32-13 Ulster Rugby Premiership bonus point win over Malone, as Derek Suffern’s youngsters clicked just in time for the start of the AIL. Ireland Under-18 Sevens international Conor McKee starts at half-back alongside McMaster.
DOLPHIN v CASHEL, Irish Independent Park
This first round Munster derby has long been on the minds of the Dolphin and Cashel players, ever since the fixtures were revealed in July. The Tipperary men were thwarted by Navan at the semi-final stage of last season’s promotion play-offs and have some unfinished business to take care off.
Incredibly, this will be Cashel’s fifth away trip on the trot as they went deep into the Munster Senior Cup, reaching the last-four. Their confidence-boosting cup run included notable wins over three Division 2A sides, including a fine comeback from 14 points down against local rivals Nenagh Ormond.
The scrum and lineout are sure to be keenly contested with the Dolphin forwards, led by lock and league centurion Dave O’Mahony, always formidable opposition on their all-weather home pitch. However, Cashel’s all-round game looks that bit sharper on current form.
MU BARNHALL v BALLYMENA, Parsonstown
Two teams who were not in this division last season clash in an intriguing opener, with MU Barnhall riding high after claiming their first piece of league silverware. Adrian Flavin was chosen as the AIL Coach of the Year after guiding the Blue Bulls to a perfect 18 wins-from-18 in Division 2B.
They have added a couple of exciting young prospects to today’s starting XV, with Gorey product Darragh Bellanova getting the nod at tighthead prop and former Leinster player Darren Hudson joined in midfield by 18-year-old Matias Giannetti, who is of Chilean origin and fresh out of Schools rugby with The King’s Hospital.
Visitors Ballymena are in a rebuilding phases, six months on from being relegated. While rejuvenated lock Ian Caldwell is one of the more experienced heads, watch out for schools talents Pierce Crowe (Coleraine Grammar School) and Kane McIlroy (Cambridge House) who both start in the back-line.
NENAGH ORMOND v RAINEY OLD BOYS, New Ormond Park
The second team that came up from Division 2B, Rainey Old Boys, make the long journey down to Nenagh Ormond. The physicality of their pack was a big positive in last week’s 38-7 Ulster Rugby Premiership defeat of Ballymena, during which ex-City of Derry back rower Adam Bratton bagged two tries.
Josh Rowland, the former Ireland Sevens international, has joined Nenagh as player-assistant coach. He starts at full-back today for Ivan Muldoon’s men, who also welcome back another Kiwi in skilful out-half Clayton Stewart who spent last season in the top flight with Young Munster.
Director of rugby John Long told the Nenagh Guardian: “We’re excited to get going again. There’s been great numbers out training in the last few months, and with Ivan back as head coach, things are looking good heading into the first game.”