Shannon face tough opener against Garryowen

AIB league champions Shannon face the toughest of starts to the defence of their crown tonight as they face old rivals Garryowen in Dooradoyle (7.30pm).

If last year’s clash at Thomond Park, again under lights, is anything to go by then it should be a cracker; Friday night rugby has been greeted enthusiastically by fans so the light blues should be guaranteed a decent financial return in these difficult times.

Garryowen will be hoping for a good run in this revamped championship as they form part of a new division 1A because they’re already out of the Munster Senior Cup and Limerick Charity Cup after successive home defeats to Dolphin and UL Bohemians.

The Light Blues started the season in promising mood with a decent win over Nenagh and followed up on those two cup defeats with a comprehensive win over Buccaneers in a friendly last week. At least, that 43-7 win will put them in a positive frame of mind for this one.

Shannon have enjoyed more form to date; despite losing to Young Munster in the Limerick Charity Cup they beat Clonakilty in the Munster Senior Cup and got the better of Galwegians in a friendly last weekend.

This weekend, Felix Jones, Munster’s new signing from Leinster, has been included in a 22-man squad, but he might yet be called up by the provincial side for the big Magners League game against Leinster in Dublin.

There are a couple of injury problems. Fiach O’Loughlin and Pádraig O’Brien are both carrying leg injuries but were said yesterday to have better than an evens chance of making the game.

Meanwhile, there are some cracking ties elsewhere around the country this weekend to get the AIB League off to a memorable start.

In Division 1A on Saturday, there are two other heavyweight derbies to whet appetites – the Dublin duel between St Mary’s College and Clontarf and the Cork clash of Dolphin and Cork Constitution.

Division 1B will start into gear with the all-Ulster meeting of Ballymena and Ballynahinch, who swept all before them during a stellar campaign in 2008/09, and UCC will be welcomed to the Division One party by Old Belvedere.

Last season’s Division 3 table-toppers Corinthians will begin life in Division 2 with a trip to UCD, while fellow promoted side, Old Wesley, begin by hosting Lansdowne in a Dublin derby.

Dublin University v Terenure College is another tie with local bragging rights on the line.

Meath outfit Navan are back in the AIB League this season and they will get their Division 3 campaign off the ground with a trip to County Carlow. The derby quota rises further with two more all-Ulster meetings – Instonians v Portadown and Queen’s University v Banbridge – and it will be Dublin South v Dublin North when Wanderers entertain Suttonians in their Division 3 opener.

SHANNON (FROM): L Hogan, C O’Neill, K Griffin, T Burke, B Duggan, J Cronin, F Walsh, P Loughnane, J O’Connor, P O’Brien, D Quinlan, E Grace, F McNamara, F O’Loughlin, M Lawlor (captain), T Bennett, J Clogan, F McLoughlin, M O’Driscoll, S Kelly, F Jones, D O’Donovan.

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