Division 1A and 1B of the AIL get underway this weekend and the clash between defending champions Lansdowne and Clontarf is undoubtedly the fixture of the opening round.
Limerick club, Shannon, make their long-awaited return to the top flight of the AIL and they will take on old rivals Cork Con in what should be a hotly contested Munster derby.
Below you will find a preview of all games taking place in Division 1A and 1B of the AIL this weekend.
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated.
AIL DIVISION 1A: Saturday, October 6
CLONTARF v LANSDOWNE, Castle Avenue, tonight, 8pm
Lansdowne begin their AIL Division 1A title defence at the Bull Ring, never an easy place to go but Mike Ruddock’s men have won on three of their last four visits there and look in very good early season form. Lansdowne thumped Terenure College 42-5 last Friday to retain the Leinster Senior League Cup.
David O’Connor and Leinster Academy out-half Harry Byrne are among the champions’ new additions, with released Connacht prop Denis Coulson set to feature more regularly in their already formidable front row ranks. Back rower Jack O’Sullivan said: “It’ll be a huge game against Clontarf, who were unlucky not to make the play-offs last season. We’ve Garryowen and UCD away too, so three big game to start us off.”
Andy Wood’s ‘Tarf side will not lack for motivation after a frustrating fifth place finish last season. They have bolstered their squad with a number of Trinity players, including Jack McDermott, Michael Courtney, Martin Kelly and Paddy Finlay, and have the strength-in-depth to mount another title challenge.
Recent League Meetings – Friday, November 10, 2017: Clontarf 0 Lansdowne 9, Castle Avenue; Saturday, January 6, 2018: Lansdowne 38 Clontarf 8, Aviva Stadium back pitch.
CORK CONSTITUTION v SHANNON, Temple Hill
A fascinating Munster derby as Cork Constitution welcome their old rivals Shannon back to the AIL top flight. These clubs have an incredible 14 league crowns between them, and Shannon will be hoping to avoid the pitfalls that saw last year’s Division 1B champions Buccaneers promptly relegated.
Strength & conditioning coach Ed Daly oversaw a gruelling pre-season regime for Tom Hayes’ young Shannon squad. Front rowers Eoghan Clarke and Cronan Gleeson have signed from Wanderers and Old Wesley respectively but their availability tomorrow depends on their game-time off the Munster ‘A’ bench.
Two losses to Garryowen (24-5 and 27-9) have been early season setbacks for Shannon, and Cork Con, with a mostly settled squad, will fancy their chances of making a winning start to the league. They have Paul Barr back as attack coach but will miss the magical left boot of Tomas Quinlan, who is now plying his trade with Narbonne in France.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 1, 2012: Cork Constitution 23 Shannon 15, Temple Hill; Saturday, March 2, 2013: Shannon 45 Cork Constitution 26, Coonagh
GARRYOWEN v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY, Dooradoyle
Garryowen broke back into the top four last season, losing at the semi-final stage to eventual champions Lansdowne, and head coach Conan Doyle is plotting a return trip to the play-offs. Recent Munster Senior Cup wins over Young Munster (26-23) and Shannon (27-9) augur well.
21-year-old centre Peadar Collins shone in those two games, scoring two tries and 38 points in all. The availability of Neil Cronin, last season’s Light Blues captain and Division 1A Player of Year, will be dependent on his commitments with Munster. Experienced lock Dean Moore skippers Doyle’s men this term, with Nenagh’s Kevin Seymour, Jeremy Loughman and Cookies scrum half Rob Guerin added to the squad.
Tony Smeeth, who is entering the 21st year of a stunning coaching career at Trinity, has had to cope with the loss of a dozen key players, but is sure to bring through some gems from the college’s Fraser McMullen Cup-winning team. Smeeth had a two-week summer stint with Super Rugby champions Crusaders where he immersed himself in their International High Performance Unit elite training programme.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 25, 2017: Dublin University 28 Garryowen 37, College Park; Saturday, February 10, 2018: Garryowen 52 Dublin University 20, Dooradoyle
UCD v UCC, Belfield Bowl
It is sure to be a memorable afternoon for centre Paul Kiernan who makes his league debut for UCD against his former club UCC, whom he captained to a historic promotion just last April. Kiernan, now studying a Masters in Dublin, is the reigning Division 1B Player of the Year.
Matthew Gilsenan and James Taylor are set for a crucial duel at out-half in this student derby, with the left-footed Taylor top-scoring for UCC with 184 points last season. This is Brian Walsh’s second year at the helm of UCC and he will want a strong opening display to take into next Friday’s derby at home to Cork Constitution, his former club.
John Poland’s involvement will depend on his Celtic Cup exertions with Munster ‘A’, but UCC will have ex-Munster centre Cian Bohane and Ryan Murphy featuring prominently in the team. Murphy and company will be looking to quell the influence of an exciting UCD back row of Stephen McVeigh, Alex Penny and Ronan Foley.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 8, 2011: UCD 23 UCC 16, Belfield Bowl; Saturday, January 28, 2012: UCC 11 UCD 13, the Mardyke
YOUNG MUNSTER v TERENURE COLLEGE, Tom Clifford Park
Derek Corcoran has taken up a player-backs coach role with Young Munster this season, bringing Clayton Stewart, Nenagh Ormond’s skilful Kiwi out-half, along with him to Greenfields. Notably, Gearoid Prendergast has also snapped up the services of Connacht Academy scrum half Stephen Kerins and Shannon’s John Foley.
Terenure’s new captain Michael Melia is without his second-row partner Alex Thompson, who has earned a shot at the professional game with Ulster, but Leinster Academy prop Jack Aungier and UCD duo Jamie Glynn and Billy Dardis, whose Ireland Sevens commitments will curtail his involvement, have all come on board at Lakelands.
It was one win apiece when the clubs met last December, with ‘Nure winning 32-13 at home and Munsters returning the favour (15-5) a week later in Limerick. After missing out on the playoffs last season, the Cookies need to put their best foot forward tomorrow and set out their stall with a solid home victory.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 2, 2017: Terenure College 32 Young Munster 13, Lakelands Park; Saturday, December 9, 2017: Young Munster 15 Terenure College 5, Tom Clifford Park
AIL DIVISION 1B:
BALLYMENA v MALONE, Eaton Park
The first Ulster derby of the new Division 1B campaign – and there will be plenty more of them – sees Malone, last year’s Division 2A champions, pitch up to Ballymena. The sides have already met this season in both the Ulster Senior Cup and Ulster Premiership with one win apiece (Ballymena 33-27 at home and Malone 46-17 at home).
Ballymena winger Jonny McMullan touched down three times across those two matches, and some of the Braidmen’s ‘ins’ in the backs division include versatile back Tim Small, who returns from a spell with French club Aurillac, New Zealander Scott Willoughby and Ireland Sevens flyer Robert Baloucoune.
Andy Graham’s men will be targeting improvements to their scrum, breakdown and discipline from recent outings, while his Malone counterpart Paddy Armstrong, who is supported by Ulster’s Chris Henry and Alan O’Connor in specialist advisory coaching roles, is waiting to see who will be available of their provincial quartet – Jack Owens, Peter Cooper, Matthew Dalton and Joe Dunleavy.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 8, 2014: Ballymena 7 Malone 13, Eaton Park; Saturday, February 28, 2015: Malone 10 Ballymena 13, Gibson Park
BUCCANEERS v NAAS, Dubarry Park
New Buccaneers head coach Peter O’Donnell’s previous spell as an assistant as Naas should help him prepare for his first league game with the Pirates. His own assistant coach in Athlone is backs supremo Aidan Wynne, the 30-year-old former Connacht centre who has rejoined Buccs from Tullamore.
Buccaneers did the double on the Kildare men two seasons ago, but Johne Murphy’s charges did well to stay up last term. Murphy, Fionn Carr, Fionn Higgins and ace goal-kicker Peter Osborne continue to wield influence behind a scrum that is boosted by returning former Ireland Under-20 prop Adam Coyle.
Captain Shane Layden is unfortunately injured for Buccs’ league opener. His team’s confidence is on the up after securing their fourth Connacht Senior League title in-a-row and they welcome back athletic lock Rory Moloney from a successful period playing in New Zealand, and Craig Ronaldson’s younger brother Hugh is also part of the squad. Former Bucc Alan Gaughan is now in the Naas ranks, adding some extra spice to this clash.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 1, 2016: Naas 16 Buccaneers 24, Forenaughts; Saturday, March 25, 2017: Buccaneers 30 Naas 23, Dubarry Park
CITY OF ARMAGH v OLD WESLEY, Palace Grounds
Back-to-back promotions have earned City of Armagh their place in Division 1B, but they expect ‘a steep learning curve’ with three crunch Ulster derbies in the first five rounds. Turning down any Ulster allocations, Willie Faloon continues to promote from within and develop some enviable homegrown talent.
Scoring difference is all that separated Old Wesley from an almighty scrap in the relegation play-offs last season, so they are hoping that a fresh start coincides with improved results. They have booked their place in the Leinster Senior League Division 2 final, with former UCC pair Paul Derham and Tom Kiersey among the new recruits.
Second row Nigel Simpson and scrum half Gerard Treanor have joined Armagh from Queen’s, with Simpson having captained the Belfast students last year. The Armagh-born Faloon, who only turned 32 last Sunday, has shown himself to be one of the best young coaches in the league, and a winning Division 1B debut would further enhance that.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
OLD BELVEDERE v BANBRIDGE, Anglesea Road
It was all change at Old Belvedere over the summer with Andy Kenny, the club’s Under-20 head coach, replacing Eddie O’Sullivan in the senior hot seat. Former Connacht out-half Steve Crosbie is putting his stamp on the back-line as player-backs coach, while Greystones speedster Jack Keating and centre Jamie McAleese, fresh from a season in the Stade Francais underage set-up, are canny additions.
With Daniel Soper now employed by Ulster as skills coach, the New Zealander has taken a step back at Banbridge. Simon McKinstry heads up Bann’s coaching team which also includes former Ulster and Ireland prop Simon Best. Hooker Peter Cromie has been released from Ulster ‘A’ duty to start tomorrow, although captain Michael Cromie (fractured hand) is a notable absentee.
These sides exchanged home victories last season with Bann triumphing 15-14 at Rifle Park thanks to winger Conor Field’s early second half try. Belvedere gained revenge with an 18-15 success at their Dublin 4 base after Christmas, the key score being out-half Tim Foley’s 76th-minute drop goal.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 11, 2017: Banbridge 15 Old Belvedere 14, Rifle Park; Saturday, January 6, 2018: Old Belvedere 18 Banbridge 15, Anglesea Road
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE v BALLYNAHINCH, Templeville Road
Having dropped down from the top flight, this is a very important season for St. Mary’s who hand the head coach reins to Steven Hennessy, who is assisted by Jamie Cornett, Barry Lynn and Rob Sweeney. Early season wins over Naas (25-17) and UCD (22-17) bode well, although local rivals Terenure clipped their wings, handing them a 39-19 defeat.
Ballynahinch have added Kiwi out-half/centre Hilton Gibbons to their playing ranks, and he is expected to be available tomorrow despite picking up a recent injury. They have had forwards Bradley Luney and Campbell Classon training with Ulster ‘A’, while props Tom O’Toole and Tommy O’Hagan are also part of their Ulster allocation.
Brian McLaughlin’s men fell at the penultimate hurdle last season with their promotion bid scuppered by Banbridge. This is their first trip to Templeville Road since February 2015 when Mary’s chalked up a 32-25 success, the side sharing eight tries that day with prop Brian McGovern’s 65th-minute score the decisive one.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 1, 2014: Ballynahinch 33 St. Mary’s College 13, Ballymacarn Park; Saturday, February 21, 2015: St. Mary’s College 32 Ballynahinch 25, Templeville Road
AIL DIVISION 2A:
Old Crescent v Cashel, Rosbrien, tonight, 8pm
Dolphin v Navan, Irish Independent Park
Galwegians v UL Bohemians, Crowley Park
Highfield v Queen’s University, Woodleigh Park
Nenagh Ormond v Blackrock College, New Ormond Park
AIL DIVISION 2B:
Skerries v MU Barnhall, Holmpatrick, tonight, 8pm
Belfast Harlequins v Sunday’s Well, Deramore Park
Greystones v Corinthians, Dr. Hickey Park
Rainey Old Boys v Wanderers, Hatrick Park
Sligo v Dungannon, Hamilton Park
AIL DIVISION 2C:
Bangor v Thomond, Upritchard Park
Bruff v City of Derry, Kilballyowen Park
Omagh v Malahide, Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
Seapoint v Midleton, Kilbogget Park
Tullamore v Ballina, Spollanstown
Additional editing by Sean McMahon