Bann braced for tough derby battle, says McDowell
AIL Divisions One
With this being the last scheduled All-Ireland League outing until after Christmas, the games about to be played have the feel of a fairly significant moment for all involved.
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Throw in the fact that the league will reach its halfway point at the weekend and that this round of matches are the first of the back-to-backs, which will conclude when the AIL gets up and running again on January 11, and there is the sense of a growing urgency to get results.
Banbridge and City of Armagh get to play their first meeting at Rifle Park in what is sure to be a closely contested 1B derby, with both keen to improve their positions in the table.
Indeed, fifth-placed Banbridge are just one place above Armagh, with only two points separating the sides.
Banbridge, though, have won their last two games and managed to be victorious for the first time on the road last weekend when they took a bonus point from a very tight affair at bottom side Navan.
Banbridge will be keen to make home advantage pay and they have won their last three games at Rifle Park, though coach Mark McDowell is only too aware of Armagh's threat as Willie Faloon's squad are also coming into this encounter off the back of a victory.
"They beat us in the Senior Cup earlier on in the season at their place and they are exceptionally well coached by Willie and his coaching team, and we know how tough this will be for us," McDowell said.
"But our plan is very much to continue in this line of improvement, and if we can do the business on Saturday then we'll be very happy with where we are halfway through the season."
Banbridge will not have Callum Reid and Bruce Houston, who are with Ulster A, but may have other releases available.
Armagh go into the second of what will be three straight Ulster derbies for them off the back of narrowly getting the better of Malone last time out.
Their 22-20 result was timely as it ended a three-game losing streak which saw them slump to eighth.
Armagh assistant coach Chris Parker said: "It was nice to break the losing streak but we spoke afterwards of the need to be more consistent.
"And that victory over Malone last Saturday counts for nothing if we can't back it up against Banbridge.
"It's two very evenly matched teams going at it and I'd be surprised if it is more than a one-score game at the final whistle. With the return match coming next in January, it would be good to finish this half of the season on a high."
Also in 1B, seventh-placed Malone are at home to unbeaten Old Wesley, who occupy the lofty position of second.
Up in 1A, Ballynahinch's struggles may well continue at Clontarf as the Co Down side have a number of players missing.
Losing last week's bizarre gale-battered game 26-24 at home to Young Munster - all but seven points were scored when the sides were playing into the conditions - was a bitter blow for the basement team.
Kyle McCall is out with concussion, while Ulster A have taken brother Zack, Jack Regan and Tom Stewart.
1A: Clontarf v Ballynahinch
1B: Banbridge v City of Armagh, Malone v Old Wesley