Armagh youngsters thrown in at deep end against Hinch
SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership holders Armagh start the defence of their title with a difficult home game against Ballynahinch tomorrow afternoon.
Coach Willie Faloon feels his squad is in a good position but realises that Hinch will be a real challenge, especially as they are now under the guidance of Brian McLaughlin.
"We have introduced a number of our up and coming youngsters into the squad who have previously turned out for the Under 18s and Under 19s," Faloon said.
"Paul Mullan, Cormac Fox, Barry Finn, Evan Cromie and Sean McKeever all have plenty of potential and that, combined with our experienced players, gives us an excellent platform to progress."
Former Portadown full-back Chris Cousins has joined, as well as Robert Whitten, the former Instonians' second row.
Peter Starrett has played for St. Mary's for the past four seasons and he will also be in the second row. On the negative side, hooker David Swann has gone to Queen's and Ollie Miller to Coleraine.
"We have just completed a four-week period of gym work to improve our strength and conditioning but now we are out on the pitch and getting to grips with new calls and systems," added Faloon.
"It has been a testing time so far with lots of information being thrown at them and everyone getting used to the new coaching team but, as ever, the boys have reacted positively and are training hard.
"There is a lot of competition for most places so it's going to be tough for the players to nail down a starting spot and keep it. Certainly the pre-training fixture against Ballymena illustrated that the talent throughout the club's senior players is extremely encouraging."
As well as the inclusion of rugby consultant McLaughlin, Hinch have expanded their coaching team to include Glen Kyle, Tom Rock and Nigel Brady, and have an average of 70 players turning out for training on a regular basis.
The new signings making an appearance this weekend are Zac Cinnamond (Wadebridge), Jack Regan (UCD), Philip Wilson (Clogher Valley), Conal Boomer (Ballymena) and Ollie Loughead (Belfast Harlequins).
Omagh make the big step up from Junior rugby to the AIL, leaving six teams in the UPR Division 2.
Coach Phil Marshall is optimistic about the season, but for the opening game against Belfast Harlequins they will be depleted due to the wedding of Dean Porter and a number of holiday absentees.
"No.8 Sam McConnell (Dungannon), second row Peter Eves and centre Luke Hanson (both Queen's) as well as the returning Lee Warnock in midfield will strengthen the squad," Marshal said.
Fixtures, Division 1: Armagh v Ballynahinch, Ballymena v City of Derry, Banbridge v Malone
Division 2: Bangor v Rainey, Dungannon v Queen's, Omagh v Belfast Harlequins