Banbridge keen to make bowling title statement against Bangor
After an unblemished start to their Northern Ireland Bowling Association Division One campaign, Banbridge are preparing for what will be an acid test regarding their title credentials against Bangor at Ward Park today.
They may have pocketed maximum points - 14 in total - from their opening two outings against newly-promoted Lisnagarvey and Divis, but the Seasiders will be a bigger threat to a much-changed Banbridge side.
Once a dominant force in the top flight, having lifted the prize eight times in an 11-year period starting back in the late 1960s, Bann believe they are again on the brink of something special.
Having scooped a posse of established performers from PGL club Dunbarton ahead of the new outdoor season, the County Down outfit - who last had their hands on the league trophy back in 1985 - approach today's showdown with a certain degree of confidence.
"We've had a positive start to the league season, but that's all it is so far," said Banbridge's Aaron O'Keefe. "Taking full points from our first two home games has given everyone a big lift.
"However, no one will be getting carried away. We know Lisnagarvey are just back into the top division, while Divis narrowly escaped relegation last year.
"Bangor will certainly be our biggest test. Along with Whitehead, they are the teams you strive to compete with. They both have dominated the division for the past 10 years or so."
But having added former Dunbarton boys Clifford Dennison, Tony Bell, Fergie Larkin, James Kelly and Gordon McGuinness to their ranks, Banbridge are now in a much healthier position.
"We have beefed up the squad," added O'Keefe. "We are now in a much better position to challenge the top two. The reality is, we finished in third place in the league table last season, but we were still 30-odd points behind Whitehead and Bangor.
"If we can manage to cut into that deficit in this campaign, it will be a bonus. Bangor and Whitehead have set the standards, it's up to every other team now to match those standards. If we can come away from Ward Park with a positive performance, it will help set the bar for us for the remainder of the league campaign."
Meanwhile, Falls Bowls Club are staging a series of 'taster days' over the month of May for anyone who wants to get involved in the sport. They will take place every Saturday morning (10am-12pm), where free coaching will be provided.
Fixtures, Northern Ireland Bowling Association Division One: Dunbarton v Belmont, Old Bleach v Pickie, Falls v Larne, Ballymena v Ards, Ulster Transport v Ewarts.
Northern Ireland Bowling Association Division One: Dundonald v Whitehead, Portadown v Balmoral, Lurgan v Lisnagarvey, Bangor v Banbridge, Divis v Donaghadee.
Northern Ireland Provincial Bowling Association Senior League: Ballymoney v Limavady, Portglenone v Dunluce.