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Armagh and Rainey aiming to clear final promotion hurdle

 

By Michael Sadlier

There's just one game to go now as both City of Armagh and Rainey Old Boys face play-off finals with AIL promotion the prize for the respective winners.

They do have home advantage for their winner-takes-all outings with Armagh facing off against Old Crescent at the Palace Grounds and Rainey taking on Tullamore at Hatrick Park.

While Armagh will be seeking to cap their season - which has already seen them claim the SONI Ulster Premiership title for the first time - by gaining a place in Division 2A, Rainey are aiming to bounce back after just the one campaign in 2C.

The Magherafelt club went down at the end of last season after losing a relegation play-off so this opportunity to get back into Division 2B is welcome.

And head coach John Andrews is confident that his squad - who finished third in 2C - can return to the higher division and they come into this shoot-out off a decent run of form and, of course, an impressive play-off semi-final win at Sligo last week.

"We've thought this season that on our day we've been as good as Navan, who went up after winning the league," said Andrews. "Just a few injuries and a couple of bad performances really cost us our shot at the league.

"Now we're playing Tullamore (who finished fourth and won last week's play-off at Bective) at home and our late season form has hopefully set us up.

"Looking at what we've done (to get here) the confidence is good going into this."

Even though Rainey have already seen off Tullamore in both regular season games, Andrews is still urging caution against the Leinster side.

Rainey have a strong squad with former Ulster players Tim Barker and Ricky Andrew sure to play key roles.

Prop Tommy O'Hagan will be on board, as will lock Ronan McCusker, while flanker Johnny Lees returns to the starting side.

Rainey look strong up front while the accurate place-kicking of Scott McClean gives them an important outlet.

As for Armagh, they were taken to the wire last week by Wanderers with the sides only being separated at the Palace Grounds after extra-time.

That result - Wanderers could have won it but missed a late conversion in normal time - will have been a wake-up call for Alex McCloy's squad, who finished second, just one point behind title winners Greystones.

Old Crescent finished fourth and 25 points behind the Orchard County club, and won at Sunday's Well in their semi-final.

Armagh have already beaten Crescent home and away but McCloy - who, along with Brian McLaughlin, leaves the club after this game - will need a big performance from skipper and ex-Ulster player Ali Birch.

"We have one more hurdle to jump," said McCloy. "If we put in the performance the boys will be rewarded because they deserve to be promoted."

Belfast Telegraph

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