The newly-structured Ulster Bank League kicks off this weekend, and there is much at stake for Connacht clubs this season.
Division one, consisting of two sections of 10 teams (previously eight ), each playing home and away, boasts both Galwegians and Buccaneers in divison 1B. Last year Galwegians finished just three points above last-placed Bruff, but this year the bottom two teams will be automatically relegated.
New coaches Colm Rigney and Gavin Duffy must ensure Galwegians start well to gain some momentum in this year’s expanded campaign. New entrants to the division include Ballynahinch, UCD, Ballymena, and Belfast Harlequins all of whom were promoted from division two last season.
Ballynahinch, who topped the division, are the visitors to Crowley Park on Saturday, and they will present a tough opening challenge for Galwegians.
However the new coaches will be delighted with Galwegians ‘Connacht Senior League campaign when they wrapped up this year’s trophy with a clean sweep of victories over fellow rivals. They will also welcome back Tadgh Leader, prop Paul Griffin and Eoin Tarmey after their exploits with Connacht’s Gram Slam winning u-20 team.
Buccaneers, with six players on that Connacht team, fared well in last year’s division 1B campaign, finishing third - just four points off promotion. They open their season at home to Bruff and they too will be keen to make home advantage count with a victory.
In division 2A, now with 17 clubs competing, Corinthians open with an away match against Midleton. Corinthians have made huge strides in the past three seasons, finishing just outside the promotion stakes last year. They have consolidated again this season under coaches Sean Duignan and Paul Flanagan and enjoyed a creditable win over their division 1B rivals Buccaneers in last weekend’s Connacht Senior League. They too boast some talented youngsters, allied to some experienced players, and should fare well again this season.
In division 2B (formerly division three ), Connacht has a new entrant with Sligo, alongside veterans Connemara. Sligo as the current Connacht Junior League winners grabbed the hotly contested Connacht spot at the expense of long-time league winners Monivea, and it will be interesting to see how they fare at this level. Connemara have always struggled, given their geographical location and their small squad. Last year they finished bottom of the table, but they have considerable heart and grit and they will want to ensure they maintain their senior status.