The men’s All-Ireland League campaign continues this weekend – here’s a look ahead to the Ulster clubs in action on Saturday:
BALLYNAHINCH (8th) v CLONTARF (4th), Ballymacarn Park
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballynahinch: L; Clontarf: W
Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Gibson 5; Tries: Chris Gibson 1; Clontarf: Points: David Hawkshaw 14; Tries: David Hawkshaw, Conor Kearns, Dylan Donnellan, Jordan Mulvaney 1 each
Only a point separated these teams when Ballynahinch last entertained Clontarf in January 2020. An Aaron Cairns try was the difference, ‘Hinch being good value for an 11-10 triumph.
However, judging by last week’s four-try dismissal of UCD, ‘Tarf have taken their attack up a few notches since then. Leinster’s David Hawkshaw enjoyed his chance to shine, scoring 14 points.
‘Hinch will have been working hard on their maul defence and tackling out wide, as Young Munster hurt them in both areas. With those improvements, they could make it a tough afternoon for Andy Wood’s men.
UCD v DUBLIN UNIVERSITY, Belfield Bowl, Friday, 8pm
BALLYNAHINCH v CLONTARF, Ballymacarn Park
CORK CONSTITUTION v YOUNG MUNSTER, Temple Hill
GARRYOWEN v UCC, Dooradoyle
TERENURE COLLEGE v LANSDOWNE, Lakelands Park
CITY OF ARMAGH (2nd) v OLD BELVEDERE (4th), Palace Grounds
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: City of Armagh: W; Old Belvedere: W
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – City of Armagh: Points: Kyle Faloon 10; Tries: Shea O’Brien, Matthew Hooks 1 each; Old Belvedere: Points: Justin Leonard 11; Tries: Billy O’Hora 1
Two of the winning teams from the opening round collide, with City of Armagh defending doggedly – minus injured captain Tim McNeice – to get the better of Banbridge.
Giving opportunities to some of the squad’s younger players, Armagh head coach Chris Parker said: “It was great to see 19-year-olds John Glasgow and Romain Morrow make their AIL debuts (last week) and both looked comfortable at this level.”
Old Belvedere, who struck late to overcome Naas, are without injured skipper Connor Owende. Dean Moore leads the side tomorrow, partnered by Paddy Dowling in the second row. Tom Ryan is added to the back row.
NAAS (7th) v MALONE (1st), Forenaughts
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Naas: L; Malone: W
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne, Donal Conroy 5 each; Tries: Donal Conroy 1; Malone: Points: Rory Campbell 15; Tries: Dave Cave, Claytan Milligan, Aaron Sexton 1 each
While Aaron Sexton provided the try-scoring fireworks for Malone against Navan, former Ulster prop Tommy O’Hagan, who has joined from Rainey, starred with a player-of-the-match performance.
The scrummaging will be worth the admission fee alone in Naas, with the hosts having the Leinster-capped Adam Coyle at loosehead. Player-backs coach Craig Ronaldson comes in at inside centre, with Conor Halpenny selected at scrum half.
Malone have had some untimely injuries of late, with the likes of Josh Davidson, Teigan Erasmus and Josh Pentland all sidelined, so a win in Kildare would provide a big lift.
SHANNON (6th) v BANBRIDGE (9th), Thomond Park back pitch
All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Shannon: L; Banbridge: L
All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: John O’Sullivan 7; Tries: Aran Hehir, Jamie McGarry, Ikem Ugwueru 1 each; Banbridge: Points: Adam Doherty 10; Tries: Adam Doherty 1
This is Banbridge’s first trip to Thomond Park since November 2017 when they fell to a 33-14 defeat. Mark McDowell’s current crop are hoping to right the wrongs of last week’s reversal against Armagh.
Bann boss McDowell said: “Shannon at home represents a significant test for us. It’s all about nailing our detail in training this week and making sure we step up to the task on Saturday.”
Shannon are also looking to put a frustrating late loss to Old Wesley behind them. A number of Under-20 players are pushing through under Pat O’Connor, who has also welcomed back Jade Kriel and Ben Sargent to the squad.
CITY OF ARMAGH v OLD BELVEDERE, Palace Grounds
NAAS v MALONE, Forenaughts
NAVAN v HIGHFIELD, Balreask Old
SHANNON v BANBRIDGE, Thomond Park back pitch
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE v OLD WESLEY, Templeville Road
BALLYMENA (10th) v BUCCANEERS (5th), Eaton Park
Ballymena’s first home game of the season sees mid-table Buccaneers make the trip north. They have ground to make up after losing a high-scoring opener 40-24 to Queen’s University.
At least their forward play is picking up points – hooker James McCormick touched three times against the students – and Paddy Browne, the Ulster Development XV lock, is enjoying playing alongside his brother Jonny.
Danny Qualter set the tone for Buccs against Cashel, in terms of sheer work-rate and physicality. His young team-mates followed, including debutant centre Stephen Mannion, a son of former Ireland number 8 Noel.
DOLPHIN (3rd) v RAINEY OLD BOYS (4th), Musgrave Park
Putting together consistent results is the early-season goal for Dolphin who, despite some rejigging of their back-line due to late withdrawals, handed UL Bohemians a 20-6 defeat.
Dolphin’s new head coach Brian Scott, who included four AIL debutants, acknowledged: “It was a strong team performance, particularly in defence, and it gives us a good marker for the rest of the season. Plenty to work on also.”
Awaiting them is a bruising clash with Rainey, the comeback kings after wiping out a 17-point deficit against Old Crescent. Prop Deaglan McErlean, their September Player of the Month, has hit form in the scrums and the loose.
OLD CRESCENT (7th) v QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY (1st), Rosbrien
Ulster opposition again for Old Crescent who led a 17-point lead slip in Magherafelt. Backs Cathal Monaghan and Jack O’Mahony opened their try accounts for the season, but Crescent could not maintain their strong start.
Queen’s University arrive in a rich vein of form, as evidenced by their 40-24 triumph over Ballymena. The best of their six tries was a fantastic 90-metre four-man move, started and finished by flying winger Stuart Martin.
Queen’s head coach Derek Suffern commented: “Our goal is certainly automatic promotion. We didn’t get to finish off what was a very successful season last year. The boys are so coachable, so committed, and really hungry for success.”
CASHEL v NENAGH ORMOND, Spafield, Friday, 8pm
BALLYMENA v BUCCANEERS, Eaton Park
DOLPHIN v RAINEY OLD BOYS, Musgrave Park
MU BARNHALL v UL BOHEMIANS, Parsonstown
OLD CRESCENT v QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, Rosbrien
DUNGANNON (10th) v SLIGO (3rd), Stevenson Park
Dungannon felt they should have been a lot closer on the scoreboard against Greystones, an intercept try from winger Matthew Montgomery their only highlight on a frustrating first day out.
‘Gannon, who are holding the grand reopening on their clubhouse, last hosted Sligo in April 2019. The Connacht club came away with a 25-22 win thanks to Jack Keegan’s reliable boot.
Sligo’s new player-coach Josh Reeves, who enjoyed a winning start against Wanderers, said: “It’s one game at a time. It’s a tough league, there’s not a lot between the teams. If you do get on a winning streak, you’ve just got to really maintain as much consistency as possible.”
GALWAY CORINTHIANS (9th) v BELFAST HARLEQUINS (4th), Corinthian Park
Energia All-Ireland League rugby returns to Cloonacauneen for the first time in 19 months. A dose of home comforts should do the trick for Galway Corinthians after they were held try-less at Blackrock.
Ireland Under-20 international Cathal Forde, who is his second year with the Connacht Academy, has the potential to light up the Galway club’s back-line.
It was a confident start from Neil Doak’s Belfast Harlequins side against Malahide. Former Ulster out-half James McKinney was the player-of-the-match and their Daryl Marshall-led back row shone as a unit.
BALLINA v BLACKROCK COLLEGE, Heffernan Park
DUNGANNON v SLIGO, Stevenson Park
GALWAY CORINTHIANS v BELFAST HARLEQUINS, Corinthian Park
MALAHIDE v GREYSTONES, Estuary Road
WANDERERS v GALWEGIANS, Merrion Road
CITY OF DERRY (7th) v ENNISCORTHY (1st), Judge’s Road
Under new head coach Ben Manion, Enniscorthy look a very attractive team to watch. Usually a back rower, Nick Doyle showed his versatility against Midleton, lining out at inside centre and scoring two tries.
The table toppers pay a visit to City of Derry, who battled their way to a losing bonus point at Tullamore despite playing half the game with 14 men due to yellow cards.
Derry’s rotten luck with injuries continued last week when key centre Davy Graham damaged his hamstring. They lost the corresponding fixture 43-17 in December 2019.
CLONMEL (5th) v BANGOR (3rd), Ardgaoithe
There has been a changing of the guard at Clonmel, with a number of senior players retiring or moving on. The young crop coming through went very close to winning at Sunday’s Well last week.
Backs Conor Pearsons, Luke Noonan and Luke Hogan scored a try apiece in the 17-all draw. Bangor’s Gareth Millar matched that tally with five penalties and a conversion against Bruff.
Experienced coaches Dave Irwin and Brian McLaughlin are now assisting Bangor boss Tom Rock, who explained: “I was conscious of the lads hearing too much of my voice. I was adamant we’d only bring people in if they are a good fit, and we have achieved that with Dave and Brian.”
OMAGH ACADEMICALS (8th) v TULLAMORE (4th), Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
Tullamore will need to keep close tabs on Ryan Mitchell, the in-form Omagh winger who has scored five tries in two games. The Accies did well to pick up a late losing bonus point, in the face of a Skerries onslaught.
Getting six league debutants out on the pitch, Tullamore were happy with their lot after beating City of Derry 23-19. Zimbabwean centre Lance Batten shared the player-of-the-match honour with industrious flanker Chris Whittle.
Only six points separated the sides when they met in Tyrone two years ago. Scott Elliott (2) and Kyle Beattie scored Omagh’s tries in a 20-14 victory over the Tulliers.
BRUFF v SKERRIES, Kilballyowen Park
CITY OF DERRY v ENNISCORTHY, Judge’s Road
CLONMEL v BANGOR, Ardgaoithe
MIDLETON v SUNDAY’S WELL, Towns Park
OMAGH ACADEMICALS v TULLAMORE, Thomas Mellon Playing Fields