Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2C returns with Instonians back at senior level after an eight-year absence. Clonmel and Midleton begin the new season with a mouth-watering Munster derby.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 2C – ROUND 1:
Saturday, October 1
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BALLINA v SKERRIES, Heffernan Park
Five months on from their play-off heartbreak at the hands of Galwegians, Ballina are looking to bounce back with former New Zealand prop Joe McDonnell now steering the ship.
They got some valuable game-time through the Connacht Senior League, their four-try haul against Sligo the undoubted highlight. New captain Calum Quinn, last season’s Connacht Senior Club Player of the Year, remains a talismanic figure.
Skerries were just 80 minutes away from promotion last April, so will definitely not be lacking in motivation. Stalwart number 8 Ross McAuley has moved on, but new additions John Waters (Naas) and Tom O’Donovan (Crosshaven) bolster the pack.
BANGOR v SUNDAY’S WELL, Upritchard Park
An agreement with Sunday’s Well to reverse their home and away fixtures, owing to Munster playing in Cork this weekend, means Tom Rock’s Bangor side will start the new season with back-to-back home games.
Former Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin continues with the Seasiders as Rock’s assistant, while young scrum half Matthew Pentland and returning back rower Andy Smyth will enhance an already strong squad.
Kevin Holland, who captained Bantry Bay last season, has transferred to Sunday’s Well along with Cork Constitution’s Harry McHenry, the younger brother of former Munster centre Alex. Denis Hurley begins his second season as head coach.
BRUFF v OMAGH ACADEMICALS, Kilballyowen Park
Bruff and Omagh played out two of the closest contests in the division last season. It was the same scoreline in both, 17-15, with Kyle Beattie’s late conversion splitting the sides in Tyrone before Bruff returned the favour in February.
It has been a stop-start opening to the current campaign for the Accies, their most recent Ulster Rugby Premiership outing seeing them lose 26-15 to Division 2C newcomers Instonians.
But the Energia AIL offers a clean slate, and that is very much the case for Neilus Keogh’s young Bruff team too. Consistency will be key as the Limerick men look to improve on last year’s sixth place finish.
CLONMEL v MIDLETON, Ardgaoithe
Clonmel’s early season run-outs included their first ever Munster Senior Cup win – a 27-17 verdict against Sunday’s Well – and a heavy defeat to top flight regulars Young Munster.
Czech international pair Albert Fronek, who is a versatile back, and Dan Hosek, a number 8, are two of Clonmel’s newcomers. The Tipperary club lost both of their games against Midleton last year, going down 23-13 at home and 14-0 away.
This is the second year of a three-to-four-year development cycle for Midleton, with the end goal of promotion. They achieved their stated aim last season of a mid-table finish, and looked well equipped to push on under head coach Ken Murphy.
INSTONIANS v TULLAMORE, Shaw’s Bridge
Instonians play their first All-Ireland League game since 2014. They come into their Division 2C campaign on the back of three wins out of four in the Ulster Rugby Premiership, including a 45-17 victory at Dungannon last Saturday.
Inst have brought in Ballynahinch scrum half Rhys O’Donnell, while their forward options now include ex-Queen’s University pair Anton Lupari and Andrew McGrath, as well as prop Schalk van der Merwe, who made four appearances for Ulster.
Tullamore lost out at the promotion semi-final stage last season, with new captain Brian Geraghty saying: “We’re hoping to build on that experience. We’ve an excellent young squad, we put in a strong pre-season and our goal for the year is promotion.”