Ballymena and Dungannon lead fight for survival
Another campaign and ,as the clubs ready themselves for battle, yet another change to the landscape is waiting in the wings.
At the end of this season the top flight will be split into two sections of eight clubs, with the finishing positions after the campaign being the basis of who occupies Sections A and B.
With this in mind, the clubs have an added incentive to ensure a high finishing position and both Ballymena and Dungannon will have to go some way to improve on last season’s finish should they guarantee places in the elite league.
Dungannon just clung on to life in the top flight last season and coach John Andrews, who has been busy on the recruitment front, will want to ensure that there is no repeat of that nerve-jangling final day at Ballymena as he looks to manufacture the Tyrone side a top eight finish for a place in next season’s Section A.
‘Gannon entertain St Mary’s College tomorrow but must fashion a result without the services of out half Richard McCarter and winger Chris Cochrane, both of whom are out with hamstring injuries. Up front, though, Ulster League leaders ‘Gannon are looking more robust with and Declan Fitzpatrick and Thomas Anderson likely to feature in club colours.
Nigel Brady is on bench duty for Ulster but could be released depending on game time.
“We haven’t hit top gear but now is the time as four of our first six matches are at home and we have to get points from these games,” team manager Brian Magowan said.
Elsewhere, Ballymena welcome newly promoted Young Munster to Eaton Park with a win top of the agenda to kick-start the Braidmen’s plan to find a place in next season’s Section A.
Having finished a mere four points outside last season’s relegation zone, coach Jacques Benade is only too aware of the need for a positive start and with Jamie Smith, Seamus Mallon, Peter Budina and new signings, Nigel Hall, Thomas Seymour and Kiwi out half Tom Woods all set for action tomorrow, Ballymena look to have the makings of quite a potent backline.
Unfortunately, cover at scrum half is looking a bit thin on the ground with both Craig Woods and former Queen’s University player Gary Fisher both out injured it looks like newly arrived Australian utility back Robert Johnstone looks set to step into the breach. Up front, Bob Young returns to the engine room after a year out of the game to partner veteran Ian Caldwell.
In Division Two, Belfast Harlequins are at home to Bective Rangers and have Ulster squad members Stuart Philpott and Paul Marshall available for action.
Elsewhere, Instonians meet Bruff, Ballynahinch are also at home to DLSP. Malone, again at home, meet newly relegated Greystones.