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Andrew back to boost Braidmen's survival fight

 

By Michael Sadlier

It's been a poor season so far for Ballymena with the Eaton Park side not having managed back-to-back wins - in any competition - since October.

But the Braidmen's most high-profile problems have been in the AIL - though their Senior Cup final defeat to Armagh hurt them - where Andy Graham's struggling squad have won just three times in 10 games.

The outcome has been eighth place in the Division 1B table where they are a mere two points ahead of UL Bohemians.

Staying clear of the relegation zone is the clear priority now for Graham and his side, though their mission to turn things around in the New Year faces some challenging terrain first up as they are at second-placed Ballynahinch.

When the sides last met in the AIL in November, the Co Down team managed to win 27-0 so heading over to do battle at Hinch does look daunting.

Still, Graham does have a strong side available to him with Ulster having directed John Andrew and Ross Kane towards club duties and they will be togging out along with the more frequently released Dave Shanahan, Brett Herron and Callum Patterson.

"We have been talking about winning all season and we now have to go and do it," said Graham.

"I have a stronger side this week and a few boys back in so hopefully that will help.

"We did beat Belvedere at home the last time we had close to a full team out."

Ballynahinch were forced to send a diluted side to Shannon last time out in the AIL and they suffered the consequences, but head coach Brian McLaughlin will want a reaction for the first home game of the year.

Peter Nelson makes his first appearance of the season after being released by Ulster, who have decided to retain Johnny McPhillips.

Nelson joins regular releases Aaron Cairns, David Busby and Zack McCall.

Elsewhere, Banbridge, who are in third, host Old Belvedere and coach Dan Soper has Ian Porter fit again, while Eric O'Sullivan and Caleb Montgomery have been released by Ulster.

Division 1B fixtures: Dolphin v UCC, Shannon v Naas, Ballynahinch v Ballymena, Old Belvedere v Banbridge, Old Wesley v UL Bohs.

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