Queen's University targeting repeat of cup glory
Ballynahinch will be bidding to get their hands on some silverware – on what has been a, so far, difficult season for them in terms of their experiences in the AIL's premier division – when they meet Queen's University in tonight's First Trust Senior Cup final at Ravenhill (kick-off 7.30pm).
Hinch will more than likely field the same side that put in a very spirited performance at the weekend – in what was their final AIL game before January – against Clontarf before narrowly losing at Ballymacarn Park and enduring their seventh defeat in eight games.
The Co Down side will therefore still be without Kyle McCall, Jonny Murphy and Ross Adair due to Ulster Ravens commitments – they play the second of their back-to-back British and Irish Cup clashes with Ayr on Friday night at Deramore – though Queen's are also affected and go into tonight without Marc Campbell, Locran Dow and David Busby.
Hinch will also be without second row Kenny Morton, who as a dual status player is not available for the cup, so John Gunson moves into the engine room for tonight's showdown.
Elsewhere, Robin Harte is expected to move to centre from wing and Matthew Arneill playing out on the flank for the Co Down side who will be bidding to lift the cup for the first time since their 'grand slam' season in 2009 when they saw off Ballymena 19-0 at the Ravenhill showpiece for what has been the only time they have captured the trophy.
Speaking ahead of the final, Hinch coach Derek Suffern said: "The Ulster Senior Cup is one of our targets this season we haven't been to Ravenhill in a cup final in a while now and certainly as the top club in Ulster as far as our AIL standing goes we want to try and win the competition."
"It is a big occasion for the boys, anytime you get to play at Ravenhill is special, outside of their school career not many boys get to experience that, so any big club final at Ravenhill has real appeal," the coach added.
However, Suffern went on to say: "It doesn't looked well planned having the cup final between two Ravens matches and that goes for both us and Queen's.
"But we're in it to win it and hopefully we can get a good support there."
While Queen's certainly have cup pedigree behind them, they will be seeking to lift the trophy for the 23rd time and are the competition's most successful side.
The Students are, nevertheless, underdogs to claim the silverware.
Though going well in the AIL's Division 2A, Queen's Director of Rugby Robbie Moore is in no doubt that this is a big ask for his squad.
"Ballynahinch play in Division 1A, so they are the best team in Ulster, they have lost a few but it is hard at that level and much quicker so we'll just have to get round it, we have nothing to lose as we won't be favourites," Moore said.
"There are a few ex-Queen's boys in the 'Hinch squad as well so that will add a bit of spice," Moore added.
Selection wise, Connor Spence and Ritchie McMaster will be the half-backs while Michael McAuley is fit to start in midfield alongside skipper Stuart McIlwaine – the brother of David – who is likely to have recovered from a hand injury in time.
However, up front, prop Mark Foster will miss the final due to a hamstring problem.