Two crunch Connacht derbies are top of the bill in Energia All-Ireland League Division 2B this afternoon. Newly-promoted Ballina debut their new Heffernan Park pitch against Galway Corinthians, while Andrew Browne’s league debut as Galwegians head coach comes against Sligo.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2B: Saturday, October 5
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BALLINA v GALWAY CORINTHIANS, Heffernan Park
Ballina will christen their new pitch today against Corinthians, determined to right the wrongs of their recent 26-17 Connacht Senior League defeat to the Galway outfit. They did close off that competition with a big 45-24 victory over Buccaneers, with young hooker Billy McVann scoring a hat-trick of tries.
Quickly adapting to this higher level of rugby will be crucial for the Moy men, who started the new season with eight debutants. JP Cooney’s Corinthians have a huge focus on kicking off the league campaign with a strong set of results after losing four of their last five league matches last term.
Simon Keller, lynchpin out-half Mark McDermott, Craig Hansberry and Cian Huxford remain key figures in the Corinthians team. Centre Adi Donovan has transferred across from local rivals Galwegians, whom they host in Cloonacauneen next Friday night.
BELFAST HARLEQUINS v WANDERERS, Deramore Park
It was a big sigh of relief for Belfast Harlequins and Wanderers last April after they both avoided the relegation play-offs by the skin of their teeth. ‘Quins have strengthened the Campbell College connection with Johnny Cupitt coming on board as a backs and attack coach, allowing head coach Nick Wells to focus on the forwards.
‘Quins did the double over Wanderers last season, winning 25-24 on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch and 15-7 at home. The Dubliners have a new head coach in Gorey man Eoin Sheriff, who steps up from his forwards coach role and is supported by Tommy ‘Traps’ Ellard.
The Chaps will be hoping to deliver performances to match the quality of their specially-commissioned 150th year celebration jerseys which they will wear throughout the league campaign. They are captained by Brian Quill from the second row, with elusive centre Mikey Russell, a Junior Interprovincial title winner with Leinster, one to watch in the back-line.
DUNGANNON v BLACKROCK COLLEGE, Stevenson Park
James Blaney has swapped Terenure College for Blackrock College, tasked with bring the Stradbrook outfit back up the divisions. Brian Colclough captains ‘Rock from full-back today, with American Nolan Pye debuting at hooker and Danie Poolman combining with Swiss international Lucas Heinrich in the centre.
Dungannon start the league on the back of successive wins over Ballymena and City of Derry, scoring twelve tries and 77 points in the process. Like his opposite number, Andrew McGregor leads ‘Gannon from the full-back position, while their powerful front row is made up of Glen Sinammon, Daniel Maxwell and Sean O’Hagan.
This is the sides’ first encounter since the 2014/15 season when they were both in Division 2A. ‘Rock ran out 37-13 winners at Stevenson Park five years ago, but they struggled on the road last season with just two wins in nine away games.
GALWEGIANS v SLIGO, Crowley Park
The second of today’s all-Connacht clashes sees Galwegians entertaining Sligo in Glenina. ‘Wegians want to be put a turbulent few seasons behind them with 32-year-old former Connacht lock Andrew Browne now installed as head coach, supported by Tiernan O’Halloran and Ja Naughton.
However, Sligo’s 33-7 victory over Browne’s side last month at the same venue, which sealed their first Connacht Senior League crown, suggests that ‘Wegians have a lot of ground to make up. Sligo have added strong-carrying Australian prop Benroy Sala and and Craig Trimble, the former UL Bohemians lock, to their squad.
Galwegians head coach Browne, who hands a league debut to South African winger Sandile Sibande, said: “Our ambitions are to consolidate our position for the year. Having had four bad years, it’s about stopping the slide. I think it’s important to be realistic about this.”
MALAHIDE v GREYSTONES, Estuary Road
Ireland Sevens international Mick McGrath will make his league debut on the right wing for Malahide, having moved across from Division 1A club Clontarf. He doubles up as a strength & conditioning coach for Mals who won promotion last April thanks to two away play-off wins.
Their new captain Daniel Hayes, who won the inaugural AIL Try of the Year award last season, said: “We’re all a big competitive bunch at Malahide and we want to test ourselves at the highest level. We really want to go for it again this year and there’s no reason why not.”
Their first round visitors are Greystones whose own promotion hopes were scuppered in the play-offs. They have newly-arrived Kiwi prop Dan Mau’u at loosehead, and a new-look back-line includes the returning Rob Connolly in the centre, Mark Meyler steps up from the Under-20s at full-back, and scrum half Alex Ryan, son of former club captain Pat Ryan, has joined from Wexford Wanderers.