Ballynahinch relish big time
It's felt a bit different this week around Ballymacarn Park and little wonder as Ballynahinch prepare to take another significant step in their notable history as tomorrow they enter the fray of the AIL's upper tier for the first time.
Hinch open their account in the big time when they host Cork Constitution – who finished fourth in last season's Division 1A to runaway winners Lansdowne – and for all the anticipation surrounding the game they know they must hit the ground running in order to thrive in this new and challenging environment.
After finishing top of Division 2A last time out, and securing automatic promotion, the Co Down club know that the step up is all about journeying into unknown territory, but long-serving coach Derek Suffern is confident the squad have the resources to survive.
With Hinch's home games having been obviously targeted as holding the key to getting wins and stabilising their position in the table, Suffern is eagerly anticipating kick-off tomorrow afternoon and is in no way intimidated by the arrival of a Munster side full of proven pedigree at this level.
"We don't fear the challenge, we're relishing it," is Suffern's mantra ahead of the opener.
"We're intent on setting our stall out to compete and we're determined not to end propping up the table.
"You could hardly get a bigger challenge than Cork Con and for us to have them at home is perfect. We've now got to make the best of it," added the coach.
"We're hugely excited about it and the players realise their responsibility to go out and give a good account of themselves, to show that spirit and desire that Ballynahinch Rugby Club is built on.
"And we need to do the supporters proud," said Suffern.
Though Hinch are heading into the game off the back of last week's surprise Ulster League defeat at the hands of Belfast Harlequins, Suffern reckons that has proved to be the perfect wake-up call for his players.
"It's probably the best thing that could have happened," Suffern said.
"It's (the defeat to Quins) parked now and we're now really, really focused on what lies ahead."
Hinch – who are the first Ulster club to make it to Division 1A – have made a number of changes from the side which lost to Quins and have a powerful looking line-up for what is sure to be a baptism of fire.
They will certainly hope to have an edge in the scrums with Ulster's Paddy McCallister set to wear club colours for the second week running, as he continues to make his comeback from last season's injury.
Kyle McCall is also going to be on duty after returning from Ulster duty.
Speedy flanker Paul Pritchard is set to feature after his return from a stint playing club rugby in Australia while Ulster have released David McIlwaine to the club who will feature in a strong running backline, which should include Stuart Morrow and Rodger McBurney, while the hope is that Kiwi out half Richard Lobb will shake off a knock he picked up earlier this week.
For all that, though, Hinch will need to be at their best and then some against a well-balanced Con side which has former Ireland international Mick O'Driscoll overseeing the forwards.
"There's a real buzz about the club but this is a really big test for us," Suffern said.
A positive start would be ideal for what is sure to lie ahead, the biggest season in the club's history.