Ulster clubs Banbridge and Malone begin the road back from relegation with opening home games as Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2A kicks off for 2023/24.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 2A – ROUND 1:
Saturday, October 7
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
BANBRIDGE v CASHEL, Rifle Park, 2pm
Banbridge’s efforts to steady the ship after losing their Division 1B status have included bringing in three former Ulster players, Rob Lyttle, Paddy McAllister and Ricky Andrew, to assist Rob Logan in his first full season as head coach. Still just 26, Lyttle steps up as player coach.
After a five-year stint in charge of Navan, Tipperary native Ray Moloney has been tasked with guiding Cashel into the top four after they narrowly missed out last season. They agonisingly fell two points short of a play-off spot, with all seven of their defeats by seven points or less.
Cashel fielded a new centre pairing of Ryan O’Sullivan and Gonzalo Carrizo for their two Munster Senior Challenge Cup matches, which included a 13-5 home win over UCC. Having struggled for results in the Ulster Premiership, Bann rallied to overcome Ballymena (27-19) and Dungannon (36-27) in recent weeks.
BALLYMENA v NAVAN, Eaton Park
Andy Hughes’ second AIL campaign as Ballymena head coach begins with a home clash with Navan. Former Ulster and Ireland ‘A’ out-half Ian Humphreys is now coaching the Braidmen’s backs, who include Rodger McBurney, Glenn Baillie and Pierce Crowe.
Talented 21-year-old back rower Adam Lamont has stepped up as captain of the Eaton Park outfit. Navan and Ballymena finished level on 41 points last season, a full 15 points outside of the top four. The Meath men’s record away from home was three wins and six defeats.
Former Leinster and Connacht hooker Jason Harris-Wright has moved up from assistant to head coach at Navan. Sean McEntagart skippers the team from midfield. Kyle Dixon and Jamie Kavanagh start after both moving from Lansdowne, with Dixon’s older brother, player-backs coach Evan, featuring at out-half.
MALONE v GREYSTONES, Gibson Park
After four seasons in the second tier of the league, Malone’s demotion to Division 2A sees them hosting Greystones for the first time since January 2018. The Cregagh Red Sox won 14-12 that day, and are hoping to record another victory to mark milestone appearances for Dave Cave and Jack McMurtry.
Captain Cave makes his 100th AIL appearance, it is winger McMurtry’s 50th, and there are league debuts for Josh Storey, Jacob Edwards, Adam Keating, Matthew Crowther and Nathan Burns. Greystones are also fielding a new-look side.
The Wicklow men have seven debutants of their own, including Italian centre Simon Ragusi, who previously played for Navan, and lock Johan van der Flier, older brother of Leinster and Ireland star Josh. The travelling squad has five brothers in all – three Marmions and two Pypers.
NENAGH ORMOND v UL BOHEMIANS, New Ormond Park
All-Ireland League rugby returns to Lisatunny, and there is a sense of déjà vu as Nenagh Ormond opened their 2022/23 campaign with a 20-5 win away to UL Bohemians. UL are the visitors this time, now with ex-Munster and South Africa prop BJ Botha as their head coach.
The Red Robins are looking to put together some consistent results having scrambled to avoid relegation last season – they needed a second half comeback to beat Dungannon in the play-off final. In contrast, Nenagh have bottled up the hurt of last April’s play-off semi-final loss to Blackrock College.
The north Tipperary club are hungry for a first ever taste of Division 1B rugby, and the route there begins tomorrow. New Zealander Ben Pope makes his league bow at number 10, and Nenagh’s well-drilled pack features the Murphy brothers, hooker Dylan and openside flanker Evan.
OLD CRESCENT v MU BARNHALL, Takumi Park
Shane Mullally’s first league game as Old Crescent head coach pits them up against MU Barnhall, who were promotion play-off finalists last season. It was one win apiece in 2022/23, with the Blue Bulls winning 44-27 at Parsonstown and Crescent triumphing 29-21 in the final round.
Mullally can rely on a varied coaching group made up of Cathal O’Reilly, Peter Murray, Munster’s Rory Scannell, the assistant attack and backs coach, and IRFU international referee Andy Brace, who is Old Crescent’s breakdown and transition consultant.
Crescent will field a youthful back-three made up of Jed O’Dwyer, an Ireland Under-18 Schools international earlier this year, Sean Donnarumma and American recruit Evan Conlon. Barnhall has some talented young guns of their own, including winger Sean Wafer, older brother of Leinster and Ireland flanker Aoife.
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