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Hinch and the Braidmen aiming to finally be AIL over-achievers

By Michael Sadlier

Published 16/09/2016

Aiming high: Ballynahinch will want to replicate last season’s Ulster Senior Cup success in this year’s AIL after relegation
Aiming high: Ballynahinch will want to replicate last season’s Ulster Senior Cup success in this year’s AIL after relegation

As a new AIL campaign is upon us, the main hope is that things can really only get better for Ulster clubs.

Last season was dire even by the usual standards of under-achievement with Ballynahinch exiting Division 1A after three seasons of what was mostly hard toil while, in 1B, Ballymena - the only sort of good news story - nearly got promoted before blowing up and promptly losing their play-off semi-final.

And, of course, 1B now only contains Hinch and Ballymena after Belfast Harlequins season of struggle saw them take the drop.

Hinch have regrouped over the summer and with Derek Suffern still in charge, though now with Adam Craig and Chris Parker also involved, are sounding ready to tackle life in 1B.

They host Buccaneers tomorrow knowing that a positive start is pretty essential to their hopes of bouncing back up into 1A.

Ballymacarn Park was anything but a fortress last season so Suffern is keen to get his side firing from the off.

"We've spoken about this being a different season, about the fact that we have a different group of players and that we're in a different league," said Suffern.

"We expect Buccs to be in the top echelons of this league so we have to set down a marker at home to show that we mean business."

Hinch - who did at least taste some success last season by retaining the Ulster Senior Cup - have a number of Ulster releases to bolster their ranks for tomorrow's clash with the Buccaneerss.

Out-half Johnny McPhillips and Sam Windsor, who will play centre, are in Hinch's squad along with Craig Trenier, Lorcan Dow, Conor Joyce and John Donnan.

Scrum-half Angus Lloyd may also be released pending game time in tonight's Ulster game.

As for Ballymena, they open their account with a trip to Shannon and coach Andy Graham is hopeful that they will be able to draw on last season as a learning experience as they push for promotion.

"I think we are even stronger this year," said Graham, while admitting that Shannon will be strong up front. "Young guys like Mattie Rea, Conor Smyth, Stephen Mulholland, Michael Lagan and Adam McBurney have now had much more exposure to the AIL.

"We have a good pack of forwards and the backline is taking shape," he added.

Kieran Treadwell, Rea and Mulholland have all been released by Ulster and with Michael Lagan and Adam McBurney also in the forwards, Graham certainly has a pretty decent pack at his disposal.

And with Mark Best released, the Braidmen's backline has a good look about it too with club regulars Rodger McBurney and John Creighton also playing.

Ulster Bank League Division 1b: Ballynahinch v Buccaneers; Dolphin v UL Bohemian; Naas v Galwegians; Shannon v Ballymena; UCC v Old Wesley.

Ulster Bank League Division 2a: Banbridge v Sundays Well; Belfast Harlequins v Nenagh; Blackrock College RFC v Corinthians; Cashel RFC v Malone; Highfield v Queen's University.

Ulster Bank League Division 2b: Bective Rangers v Armagh; City Of Derry v Skerries; Dungannon v MU Barnhall; Old Crescent v Greystones; Wanderers v Thomond.

Ulster Bank League Division 2c: Bangor v Rainey; Boyne v Bruff; Midleton v Kanturk; Seapoint v Tullamore; Sligo v Navan RFC .

All games to be played on Saturday at 2.30pm.

Belfast Telegraph

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