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Craig keen to steer clear of the Division One drop zone

 

By Alex Mills

Balmoral's disappointing start to the new NIBA Division One campaign has triggered horrible memories for former Ireland international skipper Clifford Craig.

The Belfast club escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth two years ago, courtesy of a nail-biting final-day shoot-out against Carrickfergus.

They gained the point required to seal their slot in the top flight, sending the east Antrim club back into Division Two, but it was too close for comfort.

Following back-to-back defeats, Craig is anxious to avoid another season of torment. They were handed the toughest of starts with a trip to Whitehead in their opening match, knowing few teams leave that particular venue with any degree of satisfaction.

But a narrow home defeat by Carrickfergus last weekend not only earned the visitors a little bit of revenge for their relegation two years ago, but also helped set off the alarm bells at Belvoir Drive, even at this early stage.

Balmoral, however, will look to get back on track today when they make the journey to County Armagh to face Portadown.

"We've made a poor start to the season, but we are confident we can turn it around," said Craig. "We are certainly looking to get a few points on the board at Portadown, but they are a notoriously difficult side to beat on their home green.

"There are no easy games in this league. We were handed the start that no team wanted at Whitehead, they will again be the team to beat this season.

"Last week's game against Carrickfergus could have gone either way. I think there was only one shot separating the teams at the finish.

"I've handled the pressure at the top of the table, but it was nothing compared to what we went through a couple of seasons back when we faced the threat of relegation. We don't want to experience that again."

Balmoral have made a significant addition to the squad by snapping up Andrew Johnston from Lisnagarvey.

Craig added: "He's a quality player, but will not be available until later this month when he completes his studies. There is no doubt he will make a big impact."

Northern Ireland Private Greens League Division One: Ballywalter v Belmont, Larne v Dunbarton, Ewarts v Falls, Pickie v Mossley, Old Bleach v Ballymena.

Northern Ireland Bowling Association Division One: Bangor v Dungannon, Dundonald v Banbridge, Portadown v Balmoral, Carrickfergus v Whitehead, Donaghadee v Divis.

Northern Ireland Provincial Bowling Association Senior League: Limavady v Letterkenny, Dunluce v Ballymoney, Cookstown v Coleraine, Portrush v City of Derry.

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