Johne Murphy has quickly established his credentials as a coach just two years after signing off on a memorable career that saw him play over 200 top class games for Leicester, Munster, Emerging Ireland and the Wolfhounds.
Murphy retired from professional rugby in August of 2015 and in that time has help mould Naas RFC into a highly competitive club that today starts out on a second Ulster Bank League Division 1B campaign against Dolphin at Musgrave Park (2.30pm).
After a successful debut year that ended with a surprise second place finish, Murphy looks forward to the challenge of maintaining those levels and is enthused by performances in recent Leinster League ties against Division 1A clubs Clontarf, Terenure and Dublin University.
“We’ve had good prep and although we lost to both Clontarf and Terenure we had a decent win over Trinity. We are managing our squad well and have attracted a few Naas players who were with other clubs. Unfortunately, we’re a bit short this week, it’s the first week of masters/post-grad registrations, so we’re down a couple but we’re in ok shape.
“I think we will be pretty competitive this season, that’s the goal anyway. Our aim is not just simply to survive but I would be hoping for something similar to last year where we were in the top four and in the battle for promotion.
We would certainly hope to be in a decent position at Christmas time and then see what we would have to do after that.
“We’re very lucky in the sense that we’re in a commuter town, lots of guys work in Dublin but live around the Naas area so that benefits us.”
Lansdowne have been to the forefront of Division 1A for the last number of seasons and captured the title twice, in 2013 and 2015. Head coach Mike Ruddock hopes his charges will again be involved at the business end of the season but is conscious that Buccaneers will pose a huge threat in today’s opener at Dubarry Park.
Buccaneers were runaway winners of Division 1B last year and Ruddock believes the Connacht outfit will start their campaign in confident mood. “We certainly have been forewarned about how a promoted side can perform at this higher level. I remember a couple of years back when Terenure came up and led against us until we got a late penalty to draw the game.
“We will give them (Buccaneers) respect, they have a quality squad and will be full of confidence after what they achieved last season.
Lansdowne can rely on the bulk of last year’s squad although Ruddock revealed that five or six players have moved on. “You get that, people leave for a variety of reasons, but we still have the nucleus of last year’s squad and there’s a good bit of experience in the team. We’re hoping just to be involved at the latter stage of the season and we’ll see from there.”
Down in Division 2A, Highfield start another campaign with a home tie against Blackrock. The Cork side lost their bid for a third successive promotion last year by just a couple of points and head coach Tim Ryan expects it to be even harder this season.
“It’s a tough one for us to start, there was nothing between ourselves and Blackrock last year. We’ve lost a few seasoned players but we’re not doing too badly because we’ve picked up a couple as well plus the fact that our younger players are getting more experience now. John O’Callaghan, Conor Forde, Dave Kelly supposedly, and Peter Martin have announced their retirement, but we should be ok. Eddie Earl has come in and a lot of younger guys have stepped up to the plate. A lot of them will be getting their chance against Blackrock so we will see how we go from there.”
Although he was obviously disappointed at failing to earn promotion again last season, Ryan accepted that it would probably not have been deserved if they had. “Look, a lot of people wouldn’t have given us the chance to be in the mix; we won the most games in the league last season but didn’t pick up enough bonus points and in the early part of the season we drew too many matches.
“We’ll be looking to hit the ground running from day one but I believe it will be even more competitive, a harder league than last year.
“Armagh and Greystones are better teams than Sunday’s Well and Belfast Harlequins whom they replaced. We’ll see how it goes but give it one game at a time and take it from there.”
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