Ireland begin this season’s U20 Six Nations championship with a home game against Italy as international rugby returns to Athlone tonight, Friday February 5. Kickoff for this hugely anticipated match is 7.30pm. Pre-sales of tickets are going well but cash will be taken at the turnstiles for what should be a lively and highly entertaining encounter.
Ireland stars such as Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Keith Earls, Sean Cronin, and Sean O’Brien have all played in recent seasons at the Athlone stadium where Ireland have a splendid record, losing just once there over the past four seasons. David O’Callaghan, Rhys Ruddock, and Dominic Ryan are among the leading lights this year while local interest will feature on wing Tiernan O’Halloran, whose dad Aidan hails from Moate, while hooker Danny Buckley began his rugby at nearby Creggs. Connacht have a third player Eoin Griffin also in the Ireland panel. Nevin Spence, Jack O’Connell, Brian Hayes, and John Cooney are other players worth noting in a squad coached by Allen Clarke, assisted by Nigel Carolan, while Mick Kearney is the new manager.
These floodlit matches are wonderful opportunities for sports fans from the midlands region to see the stars of the future up close and personal where there is generally a wonderful atmosphere on international match nights. The RTÉ TV cameras will add to the occasion as all three home fixtures are being transmitted live from Dubarry Park this season. Indeed, Ireland’s U20s preceded their senior counterparts by winning a grand slam just three seasons ago. Hopefully, this team can repeat that magnificent feat and the game against Italy should be the ideal launching pad.
The host Buccaneers club puts in a massive effort in hosting these highly prestigious matches with a substantial amount of background work being put in for a sizeable period of time, not simply on match night itself. Of course, all this would not be possible without the support of ESB International who again join with the IRFU in staging these games for the fifth season in Athlone.