THOMOND will be hoping to gain instant promotion from AIL Division 2B when their AIL season begins this Saturday. Colm Kinsella looks at their chances of achieving it
COACHING TEAM: Mike Grimes (Head coach and forwards coach), Kevin King (Assistant coach, backs coach), Kenneth McNamara (team manager)
LAST YEAR: 14th in 2A. Lost relegation play-off and were relegated to 2B as a result
FORM: Bowed out of both the Limerick Charity Cup and ODM Munster Senior Cup at an early stage in recent weeks.
PLAYERS OUT: Tom Burke (UL-Bohemian), Ben Rowley (Old Crescent) Colin Liston (Young Munster) Wayne Murphy (Richmond)
PLAYERS IN: Fiach O’Loughlin (Shannon), Paul Curtis (Shannon), Eoghan Cunnane (Shannon), Gary Morgan (Shannon), John Lillis (Roscrea), Rob Brockett (St Mary’s), Cathal Parkes (Old Crescent) Owen O’Neill (Young Munsters), John Higgins (Presentation), Colm Kearly (Presentation), Kevin Donnelly (Presentation), Seamus Cantillion (Suttonians), Fernando Gallant (St Senans).
MAIN MAN: Warren Kelly - The experienced Kelly has been one of Thomond’s most consistent performers in recent seasons. The versatile Kelly can play at full-back as well as on the wing and is a dynamic runner with ball in hand.
ONE TO WATCH: Fiach O’Loughlin - The arrival of the vastly experienced O’Loughlin at Fitzgerald Park over the summer is a major plus for Thomond. A former AIL medal winner with Shannon, O’Loughlin built his reputation as a quality scrum-half, but he can also play in the back five.
FIRST FIVE FIXTURES: Sunday’s Well v Thomond, Musgrave Park, Saturday, September 29, 2.30pm; Thomond v NUIM Barnhall, Fitzgerald Park, Saturday, October 6, 2.30pm; Instonians v Thomond, Shaws Bridge, Saturday, October 27, 2.30pm; Thomond v Skerries, Fitzgerald Park, Saturday, November 3, 2.30pm; Navan RFC v Thomond, Balreask Old, Saturday, November 17, 2.30pm
VERDICT: Thomond, who had managed to maintain their 2A status by the narrowest of margins for several seasons, finally succumbed to relegation last spring. However, the Fitzgerald Park outfit have moved quickly to improve their prospects of gaining instant promotion by strengthening their squad significantly for the coming season. That is no an easy task in a city which boasts six senior clubs as well as several quality junior ones. Fiach O’Loughlin is the biggest name among Thomond’s summer signings given his previous AIL experience with Shannon. O’Loughlin’s versatility means he can be deployed in any one of a number of positions in their backline. Long serving players Leonard Slattery is team captain with Kevin O Mahoney serving as vice-captain.
On the downside, David Quinn is also out for the year with a serious hip injury and Ger Finucane is facing a significant amount of time on the sidelines with an ankle problem.
Thomond will looking to make a good start in their bid to consolidate their 2B status, before aiming to push on as the season advances. With their beefed up squad, expect the ‘royal blues’ to enjoy a reasonably comfortable season.