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Struggling Ballynahinch face must-win clash

By Michael Sadlier

The AIL returns for one week only and with no Ulster club pushing to finish in the upper part of either division, the primary focus is the survival battles of Ballynahinch, Malone and Dungannon, all situated at the wrong end of the table.

In Division 1A, Hinch host St Mary's College in what looks like an absolute must-win for the Co Down club if they are to escape their current predicament which sees them only two points clear of bottom side Garryowen with whoever finishes in the basement being automatically relegated.

Hinch are one place and nine points adrift of St Mary's so Derek Suffern's squad must start accumulating more points to not only build up a buffer on Garryowen – who have notably revived since ex-Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan came on board to help out – but to also have any chance of avoiding finishing in their current ninth place which would see them in a play-off with the second-placed side in Division 1B to decide who is in the top flight next season.

Hinch – whose last game against high flying Old Belvedere was postponed – have Kyle McCall and Jonny Murphy in their ranks for this crucial clash and may have David McIlwaine depending on any game time he gets off Ulster's bench.

In Division 1B, bottom club Dungannon's situation is looking increasingly hopeless as they stare down the barrel at taking the drop.

Paddy Johns' side are at second-placed Corinthians and may have to do so without Stuart McCloskey and Adam Macklin if they are not released from Ulster bench duties.

Seventh-placed Malone are by no means comfortable either, being only six points above second from bottom Blackrock College, though the Gibson Park side have at least hit a bit of form of late, even returning from playing on a 4G pitch at UL Bohemians with two losing bonus points.

However, Jacques Benade's squad certainly have their work cut out tomorrow as Terenure College – who are top and have won all 12 games so far – are the visitors. Malone again should have James McKinney at out-half and they are hopeful that tomorrow see a welcome return for second row Alan O'Connor who has been out since injuring his shoulder early in the campaign.

It was hoped O'Connor would make the match-day squad.

Malone will have Conor Joyce and Neil Alcorn as bolted-on back row starters while John Creighton, who missed the Bohs game with a chest infection, is expected to be at scrum-half.

Unlike the rest, Belfast Harlequins – in fifth – aren't looking anxiously over their shoulders but they will want a better outcome in their second successive trip to Dublin after losing heavily to Terenure last time out.

This time, Quins are at Blackrock College and a win would not only restore morale but also be a fillip for Malone. Neil McComb and Michael Heaney and hopefully Mark Kettyle should be back in the Quins' squad.

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