David McIlwaine signs off on as Ballynahinch survive
Ballynahinch finished their campaign on an appropriate high at the weekend when they retained their place in next season's Division 1A by seeing off Buccaneers 35-13 in their play-off at a thronged Ballymacarn Park.
The Co Down outfit maintained their status as Ulster's leading club side in their four-try victory over the visitors – the Connacht team having earned their spot in the shoot-out by finishing second in 1B – with David McIlwaine leading the scoring through his impressive 25-point haul on his final game for the club.
Ulster squad member McIlwaine, who joins up with Leeds next season, scored two tries as well as adding three conversions and three penalties while Hinch's other points came from tries by Rodger McBurney and Robin Harte in a contest which saw the home side lead 25-10 at the break.
Hinch coach Derek Suffern rightly hailed his side's efforts in Saturday's showdown while also praising the way they adapted to their difficult first year in the top flight which had seen them finish their regulation season with three wins from their last four games to end up one from bottom in the table and earn the play-off.
"We have survived in the highest division so this has to be our proudest day," said the long serving coach who also oversaw Hinch's trophy treble success in 2009.
"To be fair to Buccaneers they came at us and they played in the way we would have played last season in Division 1B, but that doesn't work in 1A and there is a massive difference between the divisions.
"What told was the extra intensity and physicality we were able to produce and I think we deserved this result after our performances over the last four to six weeks," added Suffern.
The coach was also optimistic that Hinch can be far more competitive next season, taking forward what they have learned from this campaign along with the fact that they will be retaining the same coaching structure as well as the bulk of the squad which should also be bolstered by some new additions.
"We feel that we are capable of competing next season at the top end of this division.
"Against Clontarf (Hinch's last regulation game when they were defeated by the side which on the day claimed the title) I feel the intensity in that game was as high as an Ulster Ravens game and that has definitely stood to us," said a proud Suffern.