Ballynahinch seek survival in top flight's basement battle
THINGS are beginning to look as grim as the recent weather regarding Ballynahinch's chances of escaping Division 1A's bottom two.
Indeed, the focus is now very much on ensuring that the Co Down side avoid ending up propping up the table and therefore automatically exiting the top flight in this their debut season.
With basement side Garryowen – who beat Hinch 18-9 last time out – now seven points adrift of Derek Suffern's squad, the priority at Ballymacarn Park is to now stay ahead of the Limerick club and accept the potential likelihood of finishing one from bottom and entering a play-off with the second-placed side in Division 1B.
"We're fighting to stay above Garryowen and have a play-off for survival," Suffern said.
Indeed, overhauling eighth-placed Dolphin looks to be quite an ask for Hinch as the Cork side have a game in hand.
"The loss to Garryowen was really tough to take but now we have four more home games so we're hopeful we can get something from these," Suffern added.
It doesn't get much tougher though than hosting second-placed Old Belvedere – which could be switched to Wallace if Ballymacarn is unplayable –though Suffern is nevertheless encouraged by the narrow defeat Hinch suffered when playing them three months ago in Dublin.
Hinch have David McIlwaine, Kyle McCall and Jonny Murphy all released to them while flanker David McGuigan should also feature though Paddy McCallister's comeback has again been put on hold after he broke down this week.
They also have second row issues with Robert Greer injured and dual status Kenny Morton not available but Hinch do have a strong backline with Robin Harte and Rodger McBurney returning.
In Division 1B, Belfast Harlequins' recent run of form – three straight wins – is facing its sternest test yet as they take on unbeaten league leaders Terenure College.
Fifth-placed Quins should have Neil McComb and Michael Heaney but Ricky Lutton will only be made available pending game-time off the bench tonight for Ulster while fellow replacement Rory Scholes is not released.
Malone are seeking a third successive AIL win when they travel to UL Bohemians at a weather-battered Limerick. Indeed, the game has already been switched to the University of Limerick's 4G pitch due to the conditions.
James McKinney has been released as has Conor Joyce.
Elsewhere, bottom club Dungannon host Shannon with a victory for the struggling Tyrone side now an absolute priority.
Gannon have Peter Nelson, Stuart McCloskey and Adam Macklin released by Ulster while influential back rower James McMahon should also feature.