AIL Preview: Division 1A

Clontarf will bid to hang on to their 1A crown this season, but face a stern challenge, including that of beaten finalists Terenure College. Shannon move up to 1A and look to hit the ground running early.

Shannon V Terenure College, Saturday October 1st, Thomond Park, 2:30pm.

This is arguably the game of the round as newly promoted Shannon welcome last year’s finalists Terenure College to Thomond Park.

‘Nure come into the game full of confidence, off the back of winning the Leinster Senior League Division 1 title after an impressive victory against Lansdowne last week in the final.

They’ll be hoping to add more silverware and go one step further this season to claim their first ever AIL Division 1A title, and many believe they can do so. 

It’s straight into the deep end for Shannon who return to the top division for the first time since 2019. A strong finish to last season helped them secure a place in the playoffs, where they toppled Highfield away from home, going on to beat Johnny Murphy’s Naas 30-15 in Coonagh in the final.

They are of course the most decorated club in AIL history, claiming the top crown on nine previous occasions, however, they won’t underestimate the challenge facing them on Saturday. One thing is for sure, they’ll be raring to go. 

Cork Constitution V Young Munster, Saturday October 1st, Temple Hill, 2:30pm.

We are being treated to a big Munster derby this weekend. There is definitely a case for this game to be called the game of the week too and for many it probably is.  

It’s probably fair to say that things didn’t exactly go to plan for Cork Con last season as they somewhat underperformed, only due to the incredible standards that they’ve set in recent years.

Three back-to-back defeats at the start of last season which is something they will be hoping to avoid this time out.

The Munster influence will be clear to see on the sideliners in Temple Hill, with the coaching group of Jonny Holland, Denis Fogarty, Duncan Williams, and Billy Holland being guided by director of rugby Brian Hickey who was part of the Heineken Cup winning coaching ticket in 2006. 

Young Munster will be hoping to repeat last year’s result, winning in Cork 24-17 last time they played there in the league.

They were in the playoff conversation right up until the very end, narrowly missing out, finishing 6th in the final standings. They played some quality rugby especially in the 1st half of the season last year, they’ll be hoping to get into that top 4 picture. 

University College Dublin V Clontarf, Saturday October 1st, Belfield, 2:30pm.

Defending champions Clontarf make the trip across the Liffey on Saturday to start their campaign. Tarf have never won two consecutive AIL titles, could this be the season?

Andy Woods’s team were in sensational form which seen them win 19 out of their 20 league games last season.

Their perfect balance of powerful forwards and talented backs makes them a very tough team to beat. Like many of the top Dublin clubs, they have a ridiculous strength in depth which is vitally important the deeper you get into the competition.

They’ve signed the Old Wesley duo of JJ O’Dea (1B player of the season 2021/22) and Ben Murphy for the upcoming season.  They’ll definitely be near the top come the business end of the league.

One sure thing about UCD is that they will always be ultra-competitive with plenty of new players coming in every year. If they have a near to full squad available, they can beat anybody on their day and who knows where they might end up. 

Lansdowne V Ballynahinch, Saturday October 1st, Aviva Back Pitch, 2:30pm.

Last season’s beaten semi finalists Lansdowne welcome the only Ulster club in AIL 1A, Ballynahinch to the Aviva back pitch on Saturday.

Lansdowne come into the tournament battle hardened after a tough and gruelling game against Terenure in the Leinster League Division 1 Cup final last week.

Mark McHugh will have a deep pool of players to call on, as they always do, this makes a massive different. Ireland U20 star Sam Prendergast is a player to watch, you’d expect him to be more involved this season. Like Terenure and Clontarf, Lansdowne would be a very safe bet to make the top 4 again this time around.

For Ballynahinch, they survived relegation by the skin of their teeth. Last season, they were cursed with injuries and they’ll be intent to do a lot better this season. 

I still think Ballynahinch will struggle and will be involved in some sort of relegation scrap. I’d have to go for a comfortable Lansdowne victory in Round 1.

Garryowen vs Dublin University, Saturday October 1st, Dooradoyle, 2:30pm.

Last season, Trinity was very unlucky not to make it into the playoffs, narrowly missing out, behind Cork Con. Very like UCD, they always have a talented bunch of youngsters and if most of their players are available every week, I think they can be force to be reckoned with and they might just get into the semi-finals come the end of the season.

Garryowen will be looking to make Dooradoyle a fortress. They’ll need to get as many wins as possible at home. They could potentially struggle this season and we could see them near the bottom end of the table.

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