Colm Kinsella ranks and files the seven Limerick clubs in the AIL this season
THE Ulster Bank All-Ireland League begins under new structures this Saturday when Limerick’s seven representatives will – divided between three Divisions - begin their quest for top honours.
The agreed changes to the League structures will see the team which finishes top of each respective division will be crowned champions and the winners of Division 1A will be deemed AIL champions.
In relation to contracted players, they can only play in Division 1, with a reduction from three to two in the number of fully-contacted players who may be included in the match-day squads per team per match, of which one can only be a forward.
Development and Academy contracted players will have the ability to play in all divisions of the League without any restrictions.
Guide to the Limerick teams in this season’s Ulster Bank All-Ireland League.
1. YOUNG MUNSTER RFC
Management Team: Director of Rugby: Mike Prendergast; Assistant Coach: John Broderick; Assistant Coach: Gearoid Prendergast
Strength and conditioning coach: Ciaran O’Regan
Players In: Brian Haugh (Rockwell College); Andrew Burke (UCC); Lukas Kuntz (Garryowen); Mike Kelliher (Richmond); Harry de Stacpoole (UL-Bohemian); Ger Bourke (Old Crescent); Sean Duggan (Shannon); Mark Rowley (Thomond); Darren Gallagher (Richmond)
Players Out: Alan Kingsley (University of Western Australia); Ian Cross (St Helen’s RLFC)
Last season: Reached AIL semi-final, but suffered 19-9 defeat to Cork Constitution
Team they’d most like to beat: Shannon. Well, that’s until October 29 when the sides face-off at Tom Clifford Park. It will change to Garryowen after that.
One player they’d like from their past: Paul O’Connell. The talismanic second-row made a name for himself in Munsters’ run to the semi-finals of the Ail a decade ago and has donned the black and amber jersey on a number of occasions since.
Key Man: Ger Slattery. The former U-20 Grand Slam winning hooker leads from the front and has proved an excellent captain in recent seasons.
One to Watch: Sean Duggan. The lock showed plenty of promise during his time with Shannon before moving to Munsters’ in the summer.
Prospects: Enjoyed a highly success 2010-2011 when reaching the semi-finals of the AIL, where they were forced to give second best to a Cork Con’ side bolstered by several contracted players.
Munsters’ didn’t let the grass grow under their feet during the summer and moved quickly to bolster their playing squad.
Their backline has been boosted by the arrival of exciting young talent in the form of Andrew Burke, Lukas Kuntz, Mike Kelliher and Harry de Stacpoole, while Ger Bourke and Sean Duggan will beef up their pack.
Should the squad enjoy a relatively injury-free run, then head coach Mike Prendergast, who is also back playing this season after injury, should contend for top honours this season.
With the winners of the League decided by whichever team finishes top at the regular season, there is little margin for error. Munsters’ open their campaign with a home tie against Old Belvedere at Clifford Park this Saturday.
2. BRUFF RFC
Management Team: Head coach/forwards coach: Peter Malone; Backs coach: George Murray; Team manager: Micheal Leahy; Strength and Conditioning Coach: Brendan Bourke
Players In: Michael O’Donovan (Skibbereen)
Brian Cahill (Returned from Australia)
Players Out: Eoin Cahill (Shannon, backs coach), Alfie Laffan (Retired)
Last season: Finished eighth Division 1B, beat Bective Rangers 25-12 in play-off to retain 1B status.
Team they’d most like to beat: UL-Bohemian. The local rivals are due to meet under lights for the first time this season and honours finished even in their two fixtures last season.
One player they’d most like from their past: John Hayes. The Bull may struggle to get his game in a pack which has been in terrific form in recent seasons. Still, what an impact he would make from the bench.
Key man: Tony Cahill. A talented and versatile footballer, who is equally adept at out-half and scrum-half, Cahill also has a high conversion rate with his goal kicks.
One to watch: Brendan Deady. The former St Munchin’s star is a dependable full-back who just loves to counter attack. Is sound defensively.
Prospects: Had an outstanding year in Cup competitions last season winning the ODM Munster Senior Cup for the first time in their history and following up by winning the Bateman All-Ireland Cup. But the Cup runs took their toll on Bruff’s limited playing resources and their form in the League dipped as a result. From a position of mid-table comfort mid-way through the AIL regular season, Bruff dropped to bottom place in 1B. However, a play-off win over Bective secured their status in the second tier for this season. A run of smart displays in the Munster Senior Cup - culminating in an excellent semi-final win over Shannon last weekend - augurs well for their prospects. They have a tricky opening tie this Saturday, away to Buccaneers at Dubarry Park, however.
3. GARRYOWEN FC
Management Team: Paul Cunningham; Tom Tierney; Paul Murphy; James Quilligan
Players In: Alan McMahon, Keith Lyons, Fergal Lawlor, Lemeki Vaipulu (all Old Crescent); Mick Kennedy (Nenagh Ormond); Ciaran O’Gorman (UL-Bohemian)
Players Out: Lukas Kuntz (Young Munster); Darren Mulcair (Old Crescent)
Last season: Finished eighth in Division 1A, beat Buccaneers 23-9 in a play-off to secure their top flight status.
Team they’d most like to beat: Shannon. The rivalry is age old and while the fixtures may not enjoy the same profile or attendances as in the heyday of the AIL, the meetings of the two city rivals remain stand-out dates for the diary.
One player they’d most like from their past: Keith Wood. An inspirational pack leader who demanded the highest standard form his team-mates. The first name in any teamsheet.
Key man: Corey Hircock. The 20-year-old centre is in his third year at the Munster Academy and has become a key member of the Garryowen backline.
One to watch: Lemeki Vaipulu. A valuable addition to the ‘light blues’ back-row who arrived from Old Crescent during the summer.
Prospects: Last season was a major disappointment for a Garryowen side which finished bottom of Division 1A with just three wins and two draws from 15 regular season games and lost out to Bruff in the final of the Munster Senior Cup. Garryowen did manage to see off Buccaneers in the relegation play-off at Dooradoyle at the end of the season. The new campaign has opened brightly for the ‘light blues’ who have introduced former international scrum-half Tom Tierney to their backroom team.
Garryowen have – once again – reached the final of the Munster Senior Cup and the team will take good heart from their away victories over Cork Constitution and Dolphin.
The arrival of Lemeki Viapulu and Ciaran O’Gorman during the summer will bolster their options in the back row. Garryowen are unlikely to have Conor Murray available to them much – if at all – this season, but talented Munster out-half Declan Cusack could well get more regular game-time with the ‘light blues’ even allowing for his provincial commitments.
Garryowen begin their campaign with three fixtures against Dublin opposition who tend to be up to speed in the early stages of the AIL more quickly than many of the Munster. With two of those fixture – against St Mary’s on Saturday and Clontarf on October 15 – at home, the Dooradoyle side is capable of making a decent start.
4. SHANNON RFC
Management Team: Head coach: Stephen Keogh; Assistant Coach: Eoin Cahill; Joint Managers: Niall Cowhey/Pat Murray; Physio: Martin Flannery; Kit Manager: Michael Goode; Team Secretary: Seamus Whelton; Doctor: Dr John O’Dea
Players In: Troy Smith (Midleton); Aaron Spring (Sligo); Stephen Keogh (Lansdowne/Leinster); Eoin Sherrif (Lansdowne); Ken Hanley (Young Munster); Gonzala Escobar (Argentina)
Players out: Marcus O’Driscoll (St Mary’s College); Sean Duggan (Young Munster); Leonard O’Sullivan (Sunday’s Well)
Last season: Finished second from bottom in the eight-team Division 1A
Team they’d most like to beat: Garryowen. It goes without saying, doesn’t it?
One player they’d like from their past: Mick Galwey. The Kerry second row was an inspirational figure for club, province and country for well over a decade.
Key Man: Stephen Keogh. The powerful back-row forward brings invaluable experience with him from his days with Leinster.
One to watch: Luke O’Dea. The 21-year-old utility back is a hugely exciting talent who has the ability to regularly carve open defences.
Prospects: Another Limerick side anxious to put a stuttering 2010-2011 behind them. Shannon finished second-from-bottom in a fiercely competitive Division 1A last season, only avoiding a relegation play-off thanks to an impressive final day victory over Dolphin.
The arrival of Stephen Keogh as player-head coach from Leinster provided a significant boost over the summer and Keogh has slotted into an impressive back-row which has also featured Paddy Butler and the experienced David Quinlan in recent weeks.
Winger Aaron Spring has done well since his arrival from Sligo, but Troy Smith is on the injured list for the coming months.
The exciting Luke O’Dea has made an impressive start to the campaign and is sure to prove a potent attacking option for Shannon over the course of the season.
Shannon’s early season form had been encouraging until the 9-time AIL winners shipped five tries in a 31-14 defeat to Bruff in the semi-final of the Munster Senior Cup last weekend. It will be fascinating to see how Shannon respond to the setback, but few would bet against them bouncing back in style in Saturday’s opener against Dolphin at Thomond Park.
5. UL-BOHEMIAN RFC
Management Team: Director of Rugby: Barry Murphy; Head coach: Colm Tucker Jnr; Forwards coach: Gary Flanagan; Team manager: Mick Murphy;
Players In: Ben Martin (Montpellier); Gearoid Phelan (Richmond)
Players Out: Ciaran O’Gorman (Garryowen); Harry de Stacpool (Young Munster); Brian O’Hara (Cork Con); Pat O’Regan (Old Belvedere), Cian Aherne, Kieran Essex (both Lansdowne); Kevin Bracken, Ross Butler, Tom Foley, Noel Kinane (all emigrated)
Last season: Finished 4th in 1B
Team they’d most like to beat: Bruff. The result of the local derby meetings with Bruff will prove crucial to UL-Bohs’ if they are to gain promotion to the top flight at the end of the League season.
One player they’d like from their past: Mick English. The first member of Bohemians to win a full international cap, the late Mick English played 16 times for Ireland in the 1950s and ‘60s and also featured for the Lions.
Key man: JJ Hanrahan. The 19-year-old, who can play at out-half or in the centre, is an exciting talent, currently in his second year with the Munster Academy.
One to Watch: Darren Moroney. The winger, who was part of Castletroy College’s historic first ever Munster Schools Senior Cup-winning team, is a potent force with ball in hand and a top class finisher.
Prospects: Last season was very much a case of ‘what might have been’ for UL-Bohemian in the AIL as the Annacotty side missed out on promotion to the top division on the back of a couple of frustrating defeats, with the home reverses at the hands of Galwegians on the opening day of the season and UCC in February coming in top of the list. The summer has been a time of chance with UL-Bohemian with a new management team taking charge and several first team ‘regulars’ from recent seasons departing the club.
Former Munster and Ireland star Barry Murphy has taken over as the club’s Director of Rugby, while Colm Tucker has joined as head coach from Shannon.
UL-Bohs’ will be disappointed to have lost a number of established first team players such as Brian O’Hara, Ciaran O’Gorman, Kieran Essex and Pat O’Regan in recent months. On the plus side prolific points scorer Ben Martin has rejoined from Montpellier, while former Richmond player Gearoid Phelan has also arrived into the the squad in recent times. UL-Bohs’ will be hoping their form in the AIL picks up from their performances in early-season competitions. A semi-final defeat to Shannon in the Charity Cup was followed by a tame exit in the ODM Munster Senior Cup at the hands of promoted Cashel.
UL-Bohs’ will need to hit the ground running if they are to gain promotion to the top flight at the end of the regular season. An away tie against Belfast Harlequins is a difficult starting point. 6. THOMOND RFC
Management Team: Head coach: Mike Grimes. Backs coach: Henry O’Neill. Fitness. Coach: Ken Imbusch
Players In: Wayne Murphy (Richmond); Jonathan Ryan (Old Crescent); Eoin O’Neill (Young Munster)
Players Out: Mark Rowley (Young Munster)
Last season: Finished 15th in Division 2
Team they’d most like to beat: Old Crescent. Beating your local rivals always gives most satisfaction and of course – the precious bragging rights.
One player they’d like from their past: Keith Earls. Thomond have struggled to score points in recent times, but Earls would provide an invaluable cutting edge to the Fitzgerald Park side.
Key Man: Wayne Murphy. The talented out-half joined Thomond from Richmond during the summer and will bring much needed flair and high conversion rate for goal-kicking.
One to watch: Alan Airey. Hooker Airey is a key member of the Thomond pack, who also chips in with valuable tries from time to time.
Prospects: Thomond have struggled to cope with the loss of several first team ‘regulars’ in recent seasons. However, the club’s remarkable spirit has enabled Thomond to come out on the right end of several fierce relegation battles. To this end, their away victory over Old Crescent at the start of April proved crucial to the Fitzgerald Park side avoiding the prospect of a relegation play-off at the end of the season.
Thomond finished in 15th place ultimately, with just three wins from their regular season fixtures. Thomond’s defensive frailties proved the side’s undoing on several occasions during the past season. Their defensive record was the poorest in the Division, with the side shipping an average of 32 points per game over the course of the League.
The Thomond management team this season is headed up by Mike Grimes, while Henry O’Neill is backs coach.
The arrival of former St Munchin’s College star Wayne Murphy from Richmond has provided a boost to Thomond’s prospects for the season ahead.
Thomond’s early season began well with an impressive win over Old Crescent in the Limerick Charity Cup, before coming unstuck with defeats to Young Munster in the same competition and UL-Bohemian in the Munster Senior Cup.
Again a quick start will be vital to Thomond’s hopes of climbing the Division 2A table.
7. OLD CRESCENT RFC
Management Team: Head coach: Mick Lynch; Asst coach: Mick O’Halloran
Players In: James Nolan, Shane Casey (both Kilfeacle), Will Hanly (Bective Rangers); Dara Fitzgerald, Barry Gibbons (both St Mary’s); Jason Tong (Tralee); Shane Mulally (Corinthians); Peter Murray (Shannon); Emmet Hartigan (Dundee).
Players Out: Fergal Lawlor, Keith Lyons, Alan McMahon (all Garryowen)
Last season: Finished 16th in Division 2, beat Banbridge 16-15 in a play-off to secure place in Division 2A for this season.
Team they’d most like to beat: Thomond. Old Crescent’s defeat to Thomond in their April AIL clash was one of the main reasons why the Rosbrien side ended up in a relegation play-off at the end of last season.
One player they’d like from their past: Mike Mullins. Hard-running Mullins would be a major addition to Crescent’s backline.
Key Man: Dave Hogan. The tighthead position is perhaps the most difficult to play on the pitch and Hogan is a talent exponent of playing at number three.
One to Watch: Will Hanly. Arrived from Bective Rangers during the summer and conformation that he will captain the side this season speaks volumes for how much of an impact he has made at Rosbrien already.
Prospects: Finished sixteenth and bottom of Division 2 last season with just two wins from their 15 regular season AIL games. Managed to defeat Banbridge by a single point in a subsequent play-off to ensure Crescent didn’t drop to the bottom tier in the Ail for this season.
Crescent struggled in attack last season, scoring the lowest points tally in the Division over the course of the season. The Rosbrien side managed an average of just over 11 points per game which is insufficient at this level. The club has introduced some exciting young backline talent during the closed season, including the likes of Will Hanly, Peter Murray and Barry Gibbons.
A good start will be critical for an Old Crescent side still struggling for confidence after a disappointing start to the early season competitions.