Tullamore and Galwegians have the honour of kicking off the Energia All-Ireland League Men’s season tonight under the Spollanstown floodlights. Saturday afternoon will see Clogher Valley play their first AIL fixture in the club’s 33-year history.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE MEN’S DIVISION 2C – ROUND 1:
Saturday, October 7
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
TULLAMORE v GALWEGIANS, Spollanstown, tonight, 8pm
Galwegians begin life in Division 2C with a tricky trip to the midlands. Tullamore were third place finishers last season and are determined to mount another push for promotion. ‘Wegians have Connacht Academy pair Shane Mallon and Finn Treacy in their back-line.
Tullamore boss Darin Claasen oversees a promising young squad, which has been bolstered by the fact that the club are fielding four senior men’s teams this year. He said they have their goals for this first block of three games and will then ‘re-evaluate after that’.
Galwegians assistant coach Shane O’Brien commented: “Tullamore lost only one home game last season so it will be tough on Friday. Not only them but Clonmel are a very strong side too, we play them early on too. The first few games will be the main focus to try and get as many points as possible.”
BALLINA v CLOGHER VALLEY, Heffernan Park
There is huge interest in this match as the Tyrone-based Clogher Valley make their long-awaited All-Ireland League debut. Their first round hosts, Ballina, are building themselves back up after an eighth place finish last term.
Ballina have former Galwegians captain Brian McClearn as their new head coach, assisted by the recently-retired Aiden McNulty. It is a family affair at Heffernan Park where Ronan Molloy captains the senior team, and his brother Neil skippers the development XV squad.
“The boys are buzzing for Saturday,” admitted Clogher Valley captain Paul Armstrong. “The effort over the past few years has been unbelievable to get to where we are now and we don’t plan on stopping climbing anytime soon. Hopefully we can make it a special day to remember in front of our travelling support.”
CLONMEL v BRUFF, Ardgaoithe
A Munster derby for both teams to get their teeth into. Just two bonus points were the difference last season for Bruff to pip Clonmel to a top four finish. Skerries scuppered the Limerick side’s play-off hopes in the final, but their early season form suggests they will challenge again.
Bruff beat Midleton and UL Bohemians in the Munster Senior Challenge Cup before losing their semi-final to Garryowen. Vice-captain Cillian Rea said: “There has been a strong push to make the Under-20s more involved with seniors, bringing the two squads together, so that has been beneficial to us this year.”
Clonmel also had some encouraging run-outs against higher-ranked opposition in the province. They only lost by two points away to Dolphin and beat Old Crescent 20-17 at home. Out-half Josef O’Connor, who played for the Munster Junior team last season, impressed in those games, kicking 20 points.
ENNISCORTHY v OMAGH ACADEMICALS, Alcast Park
Enniscorthy, who topped the table and won promotion from Division 2C in 2021/22, are aiming to bounce straight back from last season’s relegation. Declan O’Brien, a legendary figure at the Wexford club, is now their director of rugby, with Brett Igoe taking the reins as head coach.
Omagh Academicals had to scramble to avoid finishing in the bottom two back in April, winning against Midleton and Clonmel during the closing rounds. They will be out for revenge against Enniscorthy, who ran out 45-17 winners when they last hosted the Tyrone outfit two years ago.
With home advantage, ‘Scorthy have to be favoured to get off to a winning start under Igoe. Especially if experienced campaigners like Angelo Todisco, Tomás Stamp and Tom Ryan can get the edge up front.
MIDLETON v BANGOR, Towns Park
Midleton strengthened their Robbie Doyle-led coaching team with the summer additions of Liam O’Connor, the recently-retired Munster prop, and Dan Walsh who has moved on from Young Munster. Fionn McGibney, the ex-Shannon, Garryowen and Nenagh Ormond out-half, has joined the squad.
Bangor, sixth place finishers last season, have also been busy, installing Dave Irwin as their permanent head coach with Scott Young, the former Ballymena and Ulster winger, taking up the assistant and backs coach roles at Upritchard Park.
Former Ulster and Ireland flyer Craig Gilroy, who left the province at the end of last season, is also involved with the Seasiders and could potentially pop up in the back-three. Midleton won the corresponding fixture, 37-29, last February.
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