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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Bryan Keane/INPHO Cork Con's Niall Kenneally embracing UCD's James Tarrant in January 2020.
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Fresh faces, new coaches, and old rivalries to kick things off as men's AIL finally returns
Lansdowne host Con in the pick of tomorrow’s fixtures, while Old Belvedere will stream their opener with Naas tonight on YouTube.

Men’s AIL Division 1A

Kick-off Saturday 2.30pm unless stated -

OLD BELVEDERE v NAAS, Ollie Campbell Park, tonight, 8pm

AN AIL DEBUT for the Ray Monaghan-led Old Belvedere coaching team, which includes former Leinster and Ireland prop Mike Ross. ‘Belvo are live-streaming tonight’s opener on YouTube.

Naas were second from bottom when the 2019/20 season was cancelled, so they will not lack for motivation as they look to recapture their best form under Johne Murphy.

Workhorse flanker Johnny McKeown has moved to Belvedere, joining his former Trinity captain, Colm Hogan, while well-travelled Ireland Club XV hooker John Sutton is now back with Murphy’s Cobras.

CLONTARF v UCD, Castle Avenue

ucd-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO UCD celebrating victory over Clontarf Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO / INPHO

Clontarf hosted a dress rehearsal for this game a fortnight ago, a late touchline kick from Conor Kelly seeing ‘Tarf pip the students 27-26 in the Leinster Senior League.

Andy Wood’s men lost the subsequent final 34-13 to Lansdowne, but their noted strength in depth – improved again by new signings Martin Moloney and Max Kearney – should see them challenging again for Division 1A honours.

UCD have made an astute addition to their coaching team in New Zealander Kieran Hurrell. Garry Ringrose’s younger brother, Ireland Club international Jack, captains from the centre.

DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v GARRYOWEN, College Park

Ulster Academy and Ireland U20 lock Harry Sheridan features in the second row for Dublin University as they open their campaign against Garryowen.

Mick O’Kennedy and Louis O’Reilly lead a typically attack-minded back-line. Trinity are often slow starters in the league, but they did beat Garryowen 37-19 in the opening weeks of the 2019/20 season.

Keith Wood’s son Alex, a try scorer from full-back against Bruff recently, is one of the Light Blues’ newcomers, along with James Kendrick, a real tank of a prop signed from Cashel.

LANSDOWNE v CORK CONSTITUTION, Aviva Stadium back pitch

lansdowne-supporters-watch-on Oisin Keniry / INPHO Lansdowne fans watching their side against Con in 2018. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Lansdowne will test out some new combinations with Peter Hastie and recent debutant Jack Matthews at half-back, while former Buccaneer Corey Reid combines in midfield with Paul Kiernan, the ex-UCC captain.

The headquarters club, who are live-streaming this heavyweight clash, also welcome back flanker Clive Ross from his time in Ulster. They are hoping to topple Cork Constitution, who were unbeaten and shaping up to be 2020 champions before the season was ended prematurely.

Supported by old hands Niall Kenneally and Gerry Hurley, Con’s new captain Aidan Moynihan said: “Lansdowne are always a ferocious side to play. They’re deadly on their back pitch and mad things always seem to happen on the astro turf.”

UCC v TERENURE COLLEGE, the Mardyke

Terenure College’s 14-12 victory at the Mardyke was one of the last top-flight games played before Covid-19 struck. They make the return trip with even loftier ambitions.

Some savvy recruitment has seen ‘Nure bring in Jordan Coghlan, James Connolly and Colm de Buitléar – all provincially-capped players – as well as Alan Bennie and Andy ‘Panda’ Keating.

It is always quite a balancing act for the University clubs in autumn. Having Alex Kendellen, Scott Buckley and Edwin Edogbo – all Munster prospects – available would be a big boost to UCC.

YOUNG MUNSTER v BALLYNAHINCH, Tom Clifford Park

colm-skehan-celebrates-with-the-munster-senior-challenge-cup-with-teammates Ben Whitley / INPHO Colm Skehan and Munsters celebrate winning the Munster Senior Challenge Cup. Ben Whitley / INPHO / INPHO

It has been a busy start for Gearoid Prendergast’s Young Munster, who won the delayed 2021 Munster Senior Cup final in August before reaching this season’s last-four, most recently.

Returning to Division 1A action, Prendergast said: “We’re champing at the bit. We’ve had some challenging games – hopefully they’ll stand to us – but the AIL is a different beast. We’ve prepped accordingly.”

Ballynahinch come in on the back of a 43-8 Ulster Premiership win over Banbridge. They have two sets of brothers in their pack, John and Thomas Donnan behind Kyle and Zack McCall, ‘Hinch’s 26-year-old captain, in the front row.

DIVISION 1B

BANBRIDGE v CITY OF ARMAGH, Rifle Park

It has been a testing early season spell for Banbridge, who have shipped some heavy defeats in Ulster. But the AIL brings a clean slate, and head coach Mark McDowell feels they are now on an upward curve.

“There’s a real excitement in camp about the league starting,” said McDowell, who rates new out-half Harry Bird highly. “I know that we’re more prepared than we showed against Ballynahinch, and I think you’ll see that against Armagh.”

Armagh welcomed back Chris Colvin, Kyle Faloon and Josh McKinley from injury last week, and Chris Parker’s men are targeting a full 80-minute performance after being ‘well below their usual standards’ in the first half against Queen’s.

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HIGHFIELD v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE, Woodleigh Park

diarmaid-barron-with-luke-kingston Morgan Treacy / INPHO Diarmuid Barron (Rockwell), now of Munster, getting tackled by Highfield's Luke Kingston (Bandon Grammar) during their Munster Schools Senior Cup days in 2016. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Highfield are already motoring along nicely, beating the likes of UCC (24-21), Sunday’s Well (51-7) and Old Crescent (32-31) in Munster. Their maul again is a serious weapon.

Paul Stack and Luke Kingston provide the threat out wide for Conor Quaid’s well-drilled side, who were top of the table when Covid-19 cancelled the 2019/20 season.

St. Mary’s welcome back Conor Dean at out-half after his spell with Connacht. Hooker Richie Halpin, who gets a full crack at the captaincy, and number eight Ronan Watters have a vital presence in the pack.

MALONE v NAVAN, Gibson Park

Malone were pushing for a top-four finish 18 months ago, so they are understandably eager to get back on the horse – despite a lengthy injury list at the moment.

South African back rower Teigan Erasmus has joined the Cregagh Red Sox. Goal-kicking winger Rory Campbell is a classy operator, as shown by his recent match-winning heroics against Queen’s.

The Harris-Wright brothers, assistant coach Jason and S&C coach Jonny, have been whipping Navan into shape. With most of the squad retained, Ray Moloney’s charges look in better fettle this time around.

OLD WESLEY v SHANNON, Energia Park

stephen-keogh Ben Whitley / INPHO Stephen Keogh (pictured) and Pat O'Connor will steer Shannon this season. Ben Whitley / INPHO / INPHO

The McCoy Tucker trophy – played for in honour of late club stalwarts Doug McCoy and Colm Tucker – will be the reward for whoever comes out on top between Old Wesley and Shannon.

Shannon make the trip with new coaches at the helm in Pat O’Connor, the former Clonmel supremo, and Stephen Keogh. Together with S&C coach Will Hughes, director of rugby Pat Brown believes the trio “will bring us to the next level”.

Wesley, who lost 17-10 at home to Shannon in February 2020, have had a fresh influx, with six senior debutants in action recently. They are well prepared after some solid run-outs against top-flight opposition.

DIVISION 2A

  • Buccaneers v Cashel, Dubarry Park
  • Nenagh Ormond v MU Barnhall, New Ormond Park
  • Queen’s University v Ballymena, Dub Lane
  • Rainey Old Boys v Old Crescent, Hatrick Park
  • UL Bohemians v Dolphin, UL Arena

DIVISION 2B

  • Belfast Harlequins v Malahide, Deramore Park
  • Blackrock College v Galwegians, Stradbrook
  • Galwegians v Ballina, Crowley Park
  • Greystones v Dungannon, Dr Hickey Park
  • Sligo v Wanderers, Hamilton Park

DIVISION 2C

  • Bangor v Bruff, Upritchard Park
  • Enniscorthy v Midleton, Alcast Park
  • Skerries v Omagh Academicals, Holpatrick
  • Sunday’s Well v Clonmel, Musgrave Park
  • Tullamore v City of Derry, Spollanstown

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey chat all things URC and Ireland Women on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.


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