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Banbridge target spot at top table as five Ulster clubs hungry to take All Ireland promotion step

Banbridge's Mike Bentley and James Hume (centre) react after winning against Ballynahinch. Picture by Peter Morrison
Banbridge's Mike Bentley and James Hume (centre) react after winning against Ballynahinch. Picture by Peter Morrison
Big prize: Dan Soper is just focusing on victory

By Michael Sadlier

As finishes to the season go this looks certain to be a tension-filled occasion with five Ulster clubs still involved in play-off finals where win or bust is now all that matters.

Banbridge are hoping that they can taste life in Division 1A for the first time should Dan Soper's squad get the better of UCC at Rifle Park in their winner takes all play-off.

Bann will be aiming to bring rather more control to this clash in the wake of their last three outings which have, respectively, seen them narrowly lose at UCC before coming from behind to narrowly beat UL Bohemians and then Ballynahinch.

Last weekend's nerve-shredding 28-24 win over Hinch, in the play-off semi-final at Rifle Park, only saw Soper's squad steal into the lead in the last 90 seconds of the game to book this encounter with the Cork students.

Not that it is likely to be a straightforward affair for Bann as the students are in good form and the Rifle Park side will also readily recall being turned over at home by tomorrow's opponents two years ago in the play-offs while the sides drew at Bann earlier this season.

"We're not really looking at what the prize is, we're just looking to win the next game," Soper insisted.

James Hume, Greg Jones, Caleb Montgomery and Eric O'Sullivan have all been released again.

City of Armagh pulled off a shock result in their semi-final at Highfield and their reward is to host Nenagh (kick-off 1.30) with a place in next season's 1B there for the winner.

Should coach Willie Faloon's players win then they will have bagged themselves back-to-back promotions.

"That (last season's promotion) gives the squad a lot of confidence," said assistant coach Chris Parker.

"Hopefully we can just back up that performance last weekend (at Highfield) because if we don't, it's worth nothing."

Rainey Old Boys host Navan as both clubs bid for back-to-back promotions to fill the last available spot for next season's Division 2A.

Following last weekend's home win in their semi-final with Barnhall, Rainey are confident that they can see off Navan even though the visitors won at Hatrick Park during the season.

Tommy O'Hagan and Tim Barker are part of a formidable Rainey pack while Paul Pritchard may make the bench.

It's Ulster derby time at Deramore where Quins welcome Omagh with so much at stake for both sides.

Quins hope to avoid a head-wrecking third relegation in as many seasons. The Deramore outfit have managed to steady the ship in recent weeks by winning four games on the bounce with their most recent success being in last weekend's play-off semi-final against Malahide.

"We want to embrace the challenge and the challenge is we have to win," said Quins skipper Danny Annett.

As for Omagh, who ended up second in the 2C table, they too arrive at this point off the back of some pretty decent form.

Should coach Phil Marshall's side triumph, then they will have achieved a remarkable feat of being promoted to 2B one season after coming back into the AIL.

"We are underdogs and there's no pressure on us so we'll just go out and enjoy it," said Marshall.

Belfast Telegraph


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