Match-By-Match Guide


Division One

Shannon v Buccaneers

Unlikely to go ahead, which in theory might suit Shannon, given Rhys Ellison is in New Zealand for the Christmas holidays and Alan Quinlan would be suspended (his ban would thus be completed on Monday without him having missed a match). Furthermore, Buccaneers are going well and now might have been a more opportune time to take on the champions. They've the more settled side (Conor Gormley replacing Owen Cobbe at centre is their only change from the side which accounted for Terenure) whereas Shannon have omitted Andrew Thompson to facilitate John Lacey's return and a fourth change sees Noel Healy preferred to Marcus Horan from the start.

Last season: Didn't meet.

Leading scorers: Shannon - A Thompson 19pts. Buccaneers - S Allnutt 28pts.

Leading try scorers: Shannon - M Horan, C McMahon 1 each. Buccaneers - B Rigney, R lee, M Devine 1 each.

Betting (Paddy Powers): 5/6 Shannon (9pts), 16/1 Draw, 5/6 Buccs (+ 9 pts).

Forecast: Shannon to win, if played.

Constitution v Blackrock

Something more like the real Constitution should emerge today. Their Munster wingers John Kelly and Anthony Horgan return for their first league games of the season, Ian Murray returns from injury at loose-head, Donal Sheehan replaces the rested Donncha O'Callaghan and perhaps, most significantly of all, Ultan O'Callaghan returns to the back-row.

By comparison, shoulder injuries rule out Blackrock's Brian Carey and Andrew Boyd, and Hubie Kos is unavailable for business reasons - with Tom Keating moving to full-back, Paddy Dunne or David Quinlan coming in on the wing, Nicky Assaf at scrum-half and John Ryan in the second-row. Constitution's need is the greater, and that's generally the most reliable guide.

Last season: Blackrock 20, Constitution 29.

Leading scorers: Constitution - R O'Gara 18 pts. Blackrock - A McGowan 42.

Leading try scorers - Constitution - D O'Brien, B Walsh 1 each. Blackrock - A Boyd, A Guinan, A McGowan, M Roche, E Robinson 1 each.

Odds: 5/6 Cork Con (- 2pts), 16/1 Draw, 5/6 Blackrock (+2).

Forecast: Constitution to win.

Galwegians v Young Munster

Probably not the cakewalk generally expected. As he had to do, Galwegians coach Joe Healy has wrung the changes in response to that 46-0 embarrassment at Garryowen. David Mescal and Paul Casserley replace Diarmuid Reddan and the underachieving Graham Heaslip at scrum-half and lock, while Des Dobson and Kelly Ryan come in for the suspended Mick Finlay and injured Gareth Dinneen.

Last season: Didn't meet.

Leading scorers: Galwegians - E Elwood 18 pts. Young Munster - G Earls 10 pts.

Leading try scorers: Galwegians - E Elwood, M Murphy 1 each. Young Munster - G Earls 2.

Odds: 5/6 Galwegians (+ 7pts), 16/1 Draw, 5/6 Young Munster (- 7pts).

Forecast: If their scrum holds up, Galwegians to get within seven, and maybe even win it.

Terenure v Lansdowne

Terenure welcome back Craig Fitzpatrick with Billy Treacy reverting to centre, Ciaran Clarke to full-back and Girvan Dempsey to wing in the ensuing reshuffle. Gerry Murphy has still to decide on his pack as Gavin Hill, James Blaney and Steve Barretto all have flu though, presuming all play, then this will mean home AIL debuts for Fitzpatrick, Baretto, Hill and, of course, Eric Miller. Lansdowne give an AIL bow to Gordon D'Arcy and are also significantly beefed up by the return from suspension of Angus McKeen.

Last season: Lansdowne 9, Terenure 9.

Leading scorers: Lansdowne - R Kearns 31 pts. Terenure - C Fitzpatrick 11 pts.

Leading try scorers: Lansdowne - M Dillon, N Gunne, B Everitt, C McEntee 1 each. Terenure - C Clarke, J Blaney 1 each.

Odds: 5/6 Terenure (+7 pts), 16/1 Draw, 5/6 Lansdowne (- 7pts).

Forecast: Lansdowne to shade it.

St Mary's v Garryowen

Whereas a well-organised, hungry and technically proficient Garryowen are unbeaten and have a settled, unchanged side, successive defeats have quickly placed St Mary's under pressure. Fergal Campion and Paddy Lane are preferred to Richie Ormond and Kelvin McNamee by the home team while Steve Jameson - his remarkable 83-game run having ended with a recurring shoulder injury 24 hours before the Ballymena defeat - returns at lock.

Last season: Garryowen 13 St Mary's 12.

Leading scorers: St Mary's - R Ormond 24. Garryowen - K Keane 33.

Leading try scorers: St Mary's - C McGuinness 2. Garryowen - B Cronin, K Keane, C Varley, K Ronan, D Wallace, M McNamara 1 each.

Odds: 5/6 St Mary's (- 1pt), 16/1 Draw, 5/6 Garryowen (+1pt).

Forecast: Mary's to win.

Clontarf v Ballymena

Reality bites and the euphoria of promotion having worn off, Clontarf are left to rely on fairly limited resources. It's called Second Season Syndrome. Blessed with only two full-timers, probably the lowest in the top flight, even that has been halved for the season with Declan O'Brien's knee injury and now Alan Dignam has sustained a broken and dislocated ankle. Craig Brownlie inherits the number six shirt with Dave Moore coming in at number eight.

The talented Johnny Wells reverts to his customary Ballymena scrum-half berth in light of Andy Matchett's skiing vacation, with Sheldon Coulter thus accommodated in midfield.

Last season: Ballymena 46 Clontarf 18.

Leading scorers: Clontarf - R Murphy 31 pts. Ballymena - S Mason 31 pts. Leading try scorers: Clontarf - D O'Brien, O Winchester, M Smyth 1 each. Ballymena - M Blair, N McKernan, S Mason, A Graham 1 each.

Odds: 5/6 Clontarf (+ 7pts), 16/1 Draw, 5/6 Ballymena (- 7pts).

Forecast: Ballymena to win.

City Of Derry v UCC

The Cork students have surprisingly struggled to take off this season - like UCD they may be suffering from the other collegiate and under-age obligations being placed on their players - and with home advantage Derry's bigger pack and solid set-pieces could lay the foundations for a supplementary win to their romp in Ballynahinch.

DLSP v Dungannon

Match of the day in the second flight.

Ulster's continuing European involvement isn't doing Dungannon any favours and though David Humphreys and Jonathan Bell will definitely be back for their province next week, along with Stephen Bell both are sidelined for this game - as are the Hastings and Andrew Hughes. Against that, Allen Clarke and Mark McCall return - with the latter liable to have a big influence on those around him - but Willie Anderson still doesn't have a full-strength, settled squad.

By contrast, DLSP do and are going well as one of only three unbeaten sides in the division. The elusive New Zealander Shane Stephens, who plays at outside centre, looks a notable capture. "We're under no illusions about this one; they're probably the best Dublin side in Division Two," admits Anderson. Could be close.

Greystones v Dolphin

No-one has rolled at Hompatrick in many years quite like "the Stones" did last time out. Ciaran Fitzgerald seems to have them clicking, they have a decent pack, move the ball quite well and are gritty, whereas Dolphin look to have a long campaign ahead of them and on a direct line through Skerries are about 19 points inferior.

Malone v Skerries

Skerries could be suffering from a reaction to the highs of last season's strong league showing and historic Leinster Cup final run. Unbeaten Malone are going noticeably better and though not a team of all the talents, have a hard, abrasive pack and are defensively well organised. With home advantage they should win.

Old Crescent v Old Wesley

Like Dungannon, Crescent would have been hell bent on returning to the top flight at the first time of asking and so the setback against the Sunday's Well last time out will have them fired up, all the more so with a good Christmas work-out against Young Munster under their belt. All in all, it could be a bad day for this young Wesley side to be playing them.

Portadown v Ballynahinch

Given Portadown's big, strong and abrasive pack were able to hold their own against the big hitters of Dungannon, they should have way too much firepower for the comparatively lightweight tight five of Ballynahinch, whose back door route to the second division looks to have been a step too far.

Wanderers v Old Belvedere

Two unpredictable sides. On a line through Old Wesley and Malone, a younger, more focused Belvedere would appear marginally the stronger but they've been hit by injuries to their influential player-coach Stephen Dods, Tim Mannix, Colm Gleeson and Simon Keogh which may tip the scales Wanderers' way.

Sunday's Well v Bective

That handsome win over Crescent last time out by Sunday's Well was the biggest statement of intent yet witnessed in the second division, propelling them to first place. Bective, after split verdicts from two tight matches against Portadown and Wanderers, hardly seem equipped to stop the Cork club's momentum.