Heady days for Clonmel and Enniscorthy as their respective Ardgaoithe and Alcast Park grounds host Energia All-Ireland League rugby for the first time. Omagh and Midleton, who both challenged for promotion last season, are sure to give the Division 2C newcomers a warm welcome.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2C: Saturday, October 5
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BANGOR v SUNDAY’S WELL, Upritchard Park
Two clubs who want to put last season firmly in the rear view mirror. Bangor needed some final day heroics against Malahide to avoid a relegation play-off, while Sunday’s Well dropped down from the fourth tier after just four wins in 18 games.
Peter Scott continues for his third year as the ‘Well’s head coach, with out-half Brian Derham part of the coaching team. Their new signings include former Zimbabwean international Graeme Lawler, the wily flanker who had a number of successful seasons at Cork Constitution.
Yorkshire man Tom Rock has taken charge at Bangor after two years in an assistant coach role with Ballynahinch, which culminated in their promotion to Division 1A. “I’m excited about the challenge at Bangor,” he said. “The potential of the club is something I can hopefully contribute to growing in the long term.”
CITY OF DERRY v BRUFF, Craig Thompson Stadium, Judge’s Road
City of Derry are set to hand All-Ireland League debuts to Dutch internationals Ricardo Snjeider and Quermy Warmerdam, while Neil Burns returns from Malone to bolster the back-line. They finished in mid-table last season and have about 20 points to make up if they want to mount a promotion push.
Visitors Bruff lost 27-19 on their most recent trip to Derry, but they reached the promotion final last April and look well placed to challenge again. Brendan Deady has been installed as head coach and there is an international flavour to their half-backs with the recruitment of Toulouse native Florent Riguet and Kiwi James Te Pairi.
City of Derry boss Paul O’Kane told the Derry Journal: “We need to get off to a good start and home games will be very important as the season develops. Although we beat Bruff towards the end of last season, we’re aware they put 40 points on us earlier in the season so it will be tough and will focus the minds.”
CLONMEL v OMAGH, Ardgaoithe
It was many years in the making and the day is finally here. Clonmel’s historic rise to the All-Ireland League ranks begins at home against Omagh, who were fifth-place finishers last season. Last Friday’s 26-14 pre-season defeat to Old Crescent was ideal preparation for Pat O’Connor’s men.
These clubs crossed paths in the Round Robin qualifiers in 2017, with the Accies earning a 25-13 home victory over Clonmel on the way to earning promotion via a play-off. Their early season has been impressive with Ulster Rugby Premiership wins over Dungannon (30-17) and Belfast Harlequins (26-0).
Speaking to the Ulster Herald, Omagh’s new captain Adam Longwell said: “We’re now used to the All-Ireland League. We’ve had two seasons up (at this level) and we went very close the first season. With the squad we have, there’s no reason we can’t push on. Now’s the time.”
ENNISCORTHY v MIDLETON, Alcast Park
There is a huge sense of anticipation at the newly-named Alcast Park, as Enniscorthy make the step up to All-Ireland League level. They do so without key centre Killian Lett, a former Division 1A title winner with Clontarf, who has unfortunately had to retire due to injury.
MJ Doyle, who has returned to the Wexford club from Spain, comes straight in at tighthead prop for their Division 2C bow. Kieran Hurrell and Declan O’Brien’s side could hardly have asked for a more difficult opener as Midleton, second-place finishers last season, make the trip to Ross Road.
The east Cork outfit, hotly-tipped to go one better this time around, could emerge as one of the early pacesetters. A positive result on the road would put Tom Mulcahy’s well-drilled charges in good stead for back-to-back home games against Bangor and Bruff.
TULLAMORE v SKERRIES, Spollanstown
It was a case of what might have been for Skerries last season, a fifth-place finish narrowly falling out of their reach and a nightmare conclusion to the year seeing them suffer relegation from Division 2B. With Mark Harrington moving into the director of rugby role, the rebuilding mission starts in the midlands.
The Goats’ new captain Kevin McGrath said: “It will be an interesting season. We have a lot of young players who have limited experience at senior Level. The lower league will give the team time to rebuild and give these younger lads the experience and hopefully with a lot of good results, strive to return to Division 2B.”
Tullamore also found results tough to come by last season, finishing just four points above the relegation zone in this division. Their recent Leinster Senior League defeats to higher-ranked Navan (36-24) and Greystones (19-16) showed an improved level of competitiveness, with their well-regarded underage section continuing to produce promising players.