Blackrock College return to Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2A for the first time since 2019, while the UL Arena will host a battle between two new coaches, Bohs’ Ian Keatley and Derek Corcoran of Nenagh Ormond.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 2A – ROUND 1:
Saturday, October 1
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BLACKROCK COLLEGE v BALLYMENA, Stradbrook
It is back down to business for Blackrock College after their late heroics in earning promotion away to Greystones last April. Hooker Liam McMahon, their Player of the Year last season, takes over the captaincy.
James Blaney’s squad have had the benefit of recent input from Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt at a training session. ‘Rock had a good run in Leinster Senior League Division 2, before losing their semi-final 29-20 to MU Barnhall.
Ballymena have kept the majority of last season’s squad, which is now led by new head coach Andy Hughes. Classy centre Callum Patterson is back from a successful spell with Cornish Pirates, while stalwarts Andrew Ferguson and James Taggart begin their 19th senior campaigns.
MU BARNHALL v OLD CRESCENT, Parsonstown
MU Barnhall missed out on the Leinster Senior League Division 2 title, losing 17-10 to Wanderers last week. Veteran hooker Gareth Murray takes over as captain from the talismanic Tom McKeown, who continues to pack down at number 8.
As ever, the Blue Bulls have some talented youngsters emerging. Revenge will be a factor here after Old Crescent did the double over them last year, winning 23-18 at Parsonstown and 34-27 at their Rosbrien base.
Game-breaking winger Val McDermott has moved on, but Crescent, following their recent 75th anniversary celebrations, have a promising crop of young players coming through. Among them are Stephen Kiely, Posi Obasa, Jason Aylward and Jamie Duggan.
NAVAN v CASHEL, Balreask Old
All-Ireland League centurion David Clarke captains Navan as they bid to bounce back from relegation. He is hoping to get the best out of a ‘great group of lads on the pitch’ and a ‘highly-skilled coaching team’.
Roscrea man Ray Moloney continues as Navan head coach for a fourth AIL campaign. They last played Cashel in January 2019, winning 20-13 at home on the way to earning promotion from Division 2A.
Cashel took a lot of encouragement from their Munster Senior Cup quarter-final performance against Cork Constitution. They have a clear focus for the year ahead, with half-back Josh Pickering saying: “Our number one goal is to go up this season and we’ve not going to beat around the bush about it.”
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY v DOLPHIN, Dub Lane
After topping the table in emphatic fashion last season, Queen’s University missed out on promotion in an agonising play-off final defeat to Buccaneers. The climb back to the mountain top begins with a home game against Dolphin.
Derek Suffern and DJ Creighton provide coaching continuity, the former entering his third year as the students’ supremo, while out-half Ritchie McMaster, who helped them to win the Ulster Senior Cup, steps up as assistant backs coach.
Dolphin have had a busy summer, strengthening their squad with some familiar faces and quality additions. Eamonn Mills, James Rochford and Tomas Quinlan could be driving forces for Brian Scott’s men, who finished third-from-bottom last season.
UL BOHEMIANS v NENAGH ORMOND, UL Arena
UL Bohemians begin life under new head coach Ian Keatley, assisted by his former Munster team-mate Tommy O’Donnell. It is a big year for the club, their centenary season, and they are hoping to mark that with on-field achievements.
It will be interesting to see how Ireland age-grade internationals Ihechi Oji and Evan O’Connell fit into their plans. This is a tough opening fixture for Bohs, as their Munster rivals Nenagh Ormond look to have hit the ground running.
Nenagh hammered UL 51-0 in the Sporting Limerick Charity Cup last month, and they are also through to the last-four of the Munster Senior Cup. Player coach Derek Corcoran and Nicky Irwin have impressed at half-back, behind a James Hickey-honed pack.