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Bann and Braidmen ready for key Ulster derby

By Michael Sadlier

After the adverse weather forced the complete scrubbing of last weekend’s fixture list, some of the clubs are back in action today with clearly the most eye-catching clash being the Division 1B Ulster derby between Banbridge and Ballymena.

And both could hardly be coming at this key game with more contrasting fortunes.

Bann are in third — and could go top should they win as they are a point behind Ballynahinch whose game at UL Bohemians is now on Monday March 19 — while the Braidmen are down in ninth and scrapping for every point.

Bann are going for a clean-sweep of Ulster derby wins when they host Ballymena at Rifle Park but, more crucially, are intent on hitting the summit of the table.

Coach Dan Soper should have Greg Jones, Eric O’Sullivan and Caleb Montgomery all ready for deployment against the struggling Braidmen.

Bann come into this game off the back of another Ulster derby, when they impressively derailed Hinch at Ballymacarn Park, but Soper is merely focused on the job at hand.

“Ballymena are capable of producing a performance to beat us if we are not on the money,” said Soper.

Andy Graham’s side certainly need a result as they are one point behind Bohs and they will be going all out to avoid ending up having to battle it out in the play-offs to stay up.

Ballymena have Adam McBurney, Dave Shanahan and Callum Patterson all available.

In 2A, leaders Malone’s title aspirations can be further bolstered should they win at Galwegians (kick-off 12.30pm).

Coach Paddy Armstrong’s side are seven in front of Highfield and in the driving seat regarding finishing top of the pile though they are wary that the Connacht side — who are seventh — have won their last three games.

Meanwhile, in 2C, fourth-placed Bangor face a hugely significant clash at Thomond who are now in second (kick-off 12.30pm).

The only alteration to their starting side sees Rob Gamble come in on the wing for unavailable skipper Desi Fusco and another big game from Lewis Stevenson is required.

Omagh, in fifth and one behind Bangor, host third-placed Sligo in a crunch clash for their top four hopes.

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