Boyne can reach AIL despite the tricky start
The eagerly anticipated Leinster League gets under way tomorrow with some new faces spread throughout the province and, in particular, a juicy reward for the winner of Division 1A.
The Division 1A champion will be automatically promoted to the restructured All Ireland League, thus avoiding the trauma of the much-maligned Round Robin, which has been suspended for a season so as to accommodate the expansion of the AIL to 52 teams.
Boyne commence their campaign as red-hot favourites on the back of a strong showing as runners up to Seapoint a year ago, coupled with securing their second Newstalk Provincial Towns Cup in a row last April.
Mind you they couldn't have a tougher start as they travel to Tullamore, third in the League last season and also beaten finalists in both of Boyne's Towns Cup triumphs over the past couple of years.
Both teams will be without key players this campaign as their out halves are not playing; Brian Collins of Boyne has taken a year out to pursue studies in England while his opposite number in Tullamore, Gearoid O'Grady, has transferred to Bective Rangers.
Both teams are coached by influential New Zealanders; Andy "Melly" Melville with the hosts and Craig McGrath, who also plays scrum half for the visitors, have moulded these two clubs into first-class outfits over the past few years and tomorrow's game has all the hallmarks of an early season cracker.
Mention of coaches and an interesting recruit in the Skerries' ranks is recently retired Leinster scrum-half Chris Keane who is assisting new head coach John Murphy by taking care of the backs.
He makes his Leinster League debut at the base of the scrum tomorrow for his home town club when Cill Dara are the visitors to Holmpatrick.
The Kildare Town club also have a new supremo in former Leinster Juniors coach Tony Bellew and it'll be interesting to see how the 2007-08 champions fare without their influential Tongan centre Sila va'Enuku who has returned home to his native land.
An interesting battle will also take place in Oak Park when Co Carlow host Coolmine, the two clubs having taken diverse routes to get to this level. The Carlow club have dropped from the once-heady heights of AIL Division 1 while the Dubliners enter the fray boosted by winning Division 1B last term.
Willie Anderson, the former Ireland international lock and back row forward is again in charge of Coolmine while his opposite number on the sidelines for Co Carlow is another former Leinster Juniors coach, Johnny Burns.
Burns will have a challenging job trying to restore his new club to their once proud position as a major force in Leinster rugby while Anderson has gathered an exciting squad of players that are extremely ambitious.
The remaining Division 1A game tomorrow will feature another freshly promoted and ambitious club, Newbridge, who head to Dundalk.
The county Louth club finished fourth last season and have become a very formidable side under their coach and No8 Ene Fa'Atau while the loss of their precociously talented out-half Gearoid McDonald to Old Belvedere has been balanced by the signing of New Zealander John Dodd in his place.
Head coach David Mahon has developed Newbridge into an exciting running team and they will need all of out-half Massey Tuhakaraina's guile and skill to orchestrate his young backline if they are to get off to a winning start.
For what it's worth, Boyne are my idea of a winner while Skerries may have turned the corner, following four years of struggling to find their feet in the Leinster League after their relegation from the AIL, and might just push them most.
There is also action in Division 1B, Division 2 as well as Pool 1 of Division 3 and I'll look at these in more depth next week.