A NEW season of Ulster Bank League action kicks off this Saturday for Limerick’s seven senior clubs.
It is now seven years since a Limerick club won the Division 1 title, a prize local sides had a stranglehold on for the first 15 years of the league.
Limerick’s hopes of Division 1A success rest with Young Munster and Garryowen this season.
Shannon and UL-Bohemian will play their rugby in Division 1B, with Old Crescent and Thomond operating from Division 2B and Bruff competing in Division 2C.
Young Munster have reached the semi-final of the Ulster Bank League for the past two seasons and the Clifford Park side’s aim will again be to make the top four play-offs this time round.
Munsters, who lost to Cork Con in their semi-final play-off last season, are now under the guidance of former UL-Bohs head coach Gearoid Prendergast.
Munsters’ will be captained this season by their oustanding second-row Sean Duggan.
The squad has been boosted over the summer months by the arrival of Munster centre Cian Bohane from Dolphin, with other exciting additions including the former Cistercian College, Roscrea, duo of Alan Tynan and Fineen Wycherley as well as Dan Walsh from Cork Con and Shane Airey from Shannon.
Munsters’ have lost a number of jey squad members too during the summer months with the likes of Gearid Lyons moving to English Championship side Nottingham while Ireland U-20 prop has switched to Leicester Tigers.
Munsters’ are well placed to deal with those blows, however, and the Limerick Charity Cup finalists and Munster Senior Cup quarter-finalists look well-placed to mount another strong challenge for hnours.
Expect a big crowd to be in attendance at Clifford Park on Saturday when Old Belevdere come to town.
City rivals Garryowen also kick-off their Division 1A programme with a home fixture, this time against Lansdowne.
Garryowen will be smarting after their shock Munster Senior Cup first round defeat to Division 2A side Nenagh Ormond last weekend.
To be fair, the ‘Light Blues’ have seen a significant number of talented players depart during the summer, especially in the back-row where the likes of last season’s team captain Josh Hrstich (Japan), Dave Sherry (Old Belvedere), Shane Buckley and Jordan Coghlan (both Nottingham) have moved on.
On the flip side, Garryowen have recruited some genuine quality players in Munster centre Sam Arnold, previously of Ballynahinch, and Ireland U-20 second row Sean O’Connor.
Garryowen, who had added former Munster and Ireland number eight Denis Leamy to their backroom team, will need to hit the ground running this weekend.
In Division 1B, Shannon will be determined to end their three year stay outside of the top flight.
Marcus Horan’s coaching team this season also includes former Exeter Chiefs captain and former Shannon AIL star Tom Hayes.
Shannon have bolstered their squad with the arrival of Australian U-20 second-row Riley Winter during the summer. Winter is an athletic, rangy player who is also a quality ball carrier. Former Munster and Ireland prop Tony Buckley also returns to the Parish club during the summer, but his return to AIL action looks to be some way off yet.
In Keith Kavanagh, who featured for Cistercian Roscrea in their run to last season’s Leinster Schools Cup final, Shannon have recruited an exciting scrum-half option.
The AIL’s most successful club have also lost key players however in the guise of Frank Bradshaw-Ryan and Kelvin Brown, both moving to France, while Shane Airey has gone to Young Munster.
Also in Division 1B, UL-Bohemian will be looking to improve on their eighth-placed finish of last season.
UL-Bohs have a new head coach this time with Christy Neilan, while the Annacotty side will be pleased to have retained the services of former Munster scrum-half Cathal Sheridan.
The loss of hooker Kevin O’Byrne and Darren Moroney wll be sorely felt, but the return of former captain Ed Kelly is a major plus.
Saturday’s opener with Dolphin will give a good indication of how UL-Bohs are fixed for the challenge ahead.
In Division 2B, newly promoted Old Crescent will look forward to the new season with a fair degree of relish.
Eugene McGovern is again Director of Rugby at Rosbrien, with Joe Nix as head coach. Crescent will have a pretty similar squad as last season, although they are boosted by the arrival of Liam McMahon (Garryowen), Dennis Kennedy (Bruff) and Peiter Human from South Africa.
Thomond will be desperate to improve on last season when they were relegated from Division 2A winning just three games out of 18.
Thomond’s backroom team includes head coach Ger Casey, Dave Quinlan, forwards coach and Maurice Hartery team Manager, The Fitzgerald Park side is captained by Niall Sheehan.
Thomond’s squad has been bolstered by the arrival during the summer of Jack Anderson, son of Brett Anderson, the former Garryowen player. Aaron Rice and Pat Ryan, both Munster U19 representative players are also included.
Bruff missed out on promotion from 2C last season when losing in the play-offs.
The Bruff backroom team this season includes coaches, Tom Cregan and Conor Hartigan and manager, John Finn. The hugely influential Tony Cahill will captain the side, with John Hogan as vice-captain.
Bruff were dealt a blow during the summer with the departure of the experienced Declan Bannon to Navan. However, the South Limerick club were boosted by the return of David Gardiner from Australia and John Clery from the USA.
DIVISION 1A SQUADS
Management team: Conan Doyle, Director of Rugby and First Team Head Coach: Denis Leamy, Assistant Coach; Seamie McDermott, First team Manager; John Mark Griffin, Assistant Manager; Pat Sheahan, Kit Man; Pat Quilligan, First Team Assistant.
Captain: Neil Cronin
Players In: Ger Horan (Bective Rangers); Barra O’Byrne (UCC), Sean O’Connor (Cashel); Sam Arnold (Ballynahinch), Niall Fitzgerald (Shannon)
Players Out: Ben Rowley (Canada); Aaron McCloskey (Young Munster); James McInerney (USA); Dave Sherry (Old Belvedere), Josh Hrstich (Japan); Shane Buckley (Nottingham); Jordan Coghlan (Nottingham), Barry McNamara (Richmond)
Coaching Team: Gearoid Prendergast Head coach; Ger Slattery Player/Forwards Coach; Ian Keatley Assistant Coach; Donn O'Sullivan Assistant Coach/Performance Analyst.
Captain: Sean Duggan
Players Out: Ben Betts (Leicester Tigers); Gearoid Lyons (Nottingham); Darren Gallagher; Shane Fenton (Lansdowne)
Players in: Dan Walsh (Cork Con); Cian Bohane (Dolphin), Gavin Coombes (Bandon Grammar School); Fineen Wycherley (Roscrea CC), Alan Tynan (Roscrea CC), Shane Airey (Shannon), Tom McHale (Cashel), Luke O’Halloran (Shannon)
Management Team: Head Coach: Marcus Horan; Forwards Coach: Tom Hayes; Backs Coach: Ian Serwin; Manager: Billy O’Shea; Bagman: Richard Ryan
Captain: Lee Nicolas
Players In: Tony Buckley (Kanturk), Barrie Duggan (St. Marys), Ben Sargent (St. Marys), Dylan Murphy (Roscrea CC), Ed Barry (Garryowen), Fionn McGibney (Thomond), Eoin O’Carroll (Thomond), Jack Stafford (Glenstal), Keith Kavanagh (Roscrea CC), Mike Hayes (Kilfeacle), Ryan Minihan (Young Munster), Sean Markham (St Marys)
Players Out: Simon Malone (Wanderers), Frank Bradshaw Ryan (Auch), Kelvin Brown (Aurillac), Jack Cullen (London Scottish), Shane Airey (Young Munster), Niall Horan (Garryowen), Aaron Broderick (Corinthians), Tadhg Bennett (Richmond), David O’Donavan (Retired)
Coaching Team: Christy Neilan head coach; George Murray, backs and attack coach; Keith Matthews backs and defence coach; Seamie Hassett is forwards coach; Cathal Sheridan S & C.
Captain: Ian Condell
Players In: Ed Kelly (Clontarf); Warren Kelly (St Senans); Jack Murray (Thomond) Harry Fleming (Dolphin)
Players Out: Kevin O'Byrne (Cork Con) Darren Moroney, (St Marys College) Alan Rossiter (N/A)
Management Team: Tommy Pratty (Chairman of Rugby and First Team Manager; Eugene McGovern (Director of Rugby), Joe Nix (Head Coach)
Club Captain: Cathal O’Reilly
Players In: Liam McMahon (Garryowen); Dennis Kennedy (Bruff); Peiter Human (South Africa)
Players out: Marty Ryan (Barnhall)
Management Team: Ger Casey (Head Coach), Dave Quinlan (Forwards Coach), Maurice Hartery (Manager)
Club Captain: Niall Sheehan
Players In: Jack Anderson (New Zealand), David Quinlan (Shannon), Dean O'Brien (Newcastle West), John Sheehan (Newcastle West), Dermot Fitzgerald (Australia), Tyler Richardson (Shannon), Aaron Rice (St Munchins College), Pat Ryan (Ardscoil Ris).
Players Out: Fionn McGibney and Eoin O'Carroll (both Shannon), Donal Murphy, Kevin O'Mahony and Mike Kinsella (all retired), Eoghan Cunnane (USA), Leonard Slattery and Mike D'Arcy (both Presentation)
Coaching Team: Coaches, Tom Cregan, Conor Hartigan; Manager, John Finn
Captain: Tony Cahill, John Hogan (Vice-captain)
Players Out: Declan Bannon (Navan)
Players In: David Gardener (returned from Australia), John Clery (back from USA)