Cork Harlequins will start as unbackable favourites to retain their women’s crown, and their panel has by far the best depth despite the loss of Irish U18 starlet Abby Oakes to UCD; the pacy Emily O’Leary’s return from UCC should help mitigate that.
Irish internationals Cliodhna Sargent and Yvonne O’Byrne may miss large chunks of the campaign with the national side on an Olympic qualification quest in 2015, but recent school leavers Alex O’Grady and Katie O’Neill are well placed to step up.
Who their main challengers will be is open to question; last year’s runners-up, UCC, have been cleared out with three first-team players on Erasmus while Aine Curran (Ulster Elks), Miriam Crowley (Bristol) and Kate Harvey (Longwood Lancers, USA) have sought pastures new.
Cork C of I could be best placed to mount a title challenge.
Catholic Institute begin life without long-serving coach Ger O’Carroll at the helm and a couple of key absences. Ireland U18’s Clodagh Moloney has moved to UCC while Katie Campbell will also miss much of the campaign as she rehabs a torn cruciate ligament. .
Bandon and Ashton have both had productive summers on the recruitment front while UL have managed to survive a mass clear-out but are likely to find the going tough until the new year, when the bottom four in Division 1 form a new league with the top four from Division 1B; Fermoy, Limerick and newly-promoted Cashel/New Inn are fancied to join them there.
Of the 10 sides competing in the new 1B section, Clonakilty are many people’s favourites to make a big impression with ex-Quins star Jane Chapple joining sister Hilary in Melvin Beamish’s panel.
The men’s Division 1 gets underway tonight with a real baptism of fire for Ashton away to champions Cork C of I. Having finished bottom of Division 2 last year but been bumped up alongside Catholic Institute and Limerick in the league restructures, the Boreenmanna Road side will be looking to gain experience and build for the future.
Bandon — with Denis Pritchard in charge and Clinton Sweetnam fully in harness — look like the league’s dark horses; UCC’s lack of a short corner specialist could hurt them but the title is C of I’s to lose, especially if John Jermyn can retain full fitness.