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Club scene: All-Ireland League

IT SHOULDN'T take long for this season to heat up after the fixtures computer threw up the tastiest of ties to open proceedings.

One of three matches tonight, as the league continues to push Friday night games, a big crowd is expected at Thomond Park, where the new-look Cookies begin their attempt to improve on a third-placed finish last season.

They will have to cope with the loss of a host of players due to emigration. Mike Prendergast has had to chop and change in pre-season as he looks to rebuild his team without Willie Staunton, who has moved to Terenure.

His opposite number and former Munster team-mate Stephen Keogh (pictured above) is also dealing with departures and will come up against a familiar face in Gareth Quinn-McDonagh, who had a stint in the English Championship last season and will replace Staunton at No 10.

"Pre-season has been a bit of a rebuilding process after we lost a fair few lads to emigration," Cookies captain Hugh McGrath said. "A derby against Shannon is a nice way to start. Both games were really close last year and there will be fireworks."

As ever in Limerick derbies, this clash will be won up front, where Keogh will look to stamp his authority in the absence of Paddy Butler, who looks like he will be a regular fixture with Munster this season. The hosts should have enough to come out on top in a tight affair.

Verdict: Shannon

Coach's corner

Hugh Hogan (St Mary's)

LEAGUE-winning skipper Hugh Hogan has replaced his scrumcap with a headset for the coming season after taking over from Peter Smyth as coach at St Mary's.

Having led his side to the Division 1A title on the pitch last April, the No 8 (right) will aim to do the same from the touchline as their defence begins tomorrow afternoon at Templeville Road against newly promoted UL Bohemian, who have looked good in pre-season.

Mary's will have watched Old Belvedere's dramatic slide last season -- their cross-city rivals failed to win for much of the season and narrowly avoided relegation -- but look in better shape with Richie Sweeney as captain, and new additions like Kevin Croke and Andrew Burke should ensure they are more than competitive as they chase back-to-back titles.

Irish Independent