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Braidmen in fight for survival from crunch derby with Armagh

 

Back in the fold: Marcus Rea is available again for Ballymena
Back in the fold: Marcus Rea is available again for Ballymena

By Michael Sadlier

Much of what may evolve for the remainder of their campaigns looks to be at stake when City of Armagh and Ballymena go head-to-head for their Ulster derby at the Palace Grounds tomorrow.

Neither have managed to win an AIL game since the turn of the year and, consequently, both find themselves in less than comfortable parts of the pile.

While Armagh have see-sawed up and down the notably congested table in recent weeks, the Braidmen are now firmly planted at the foot of the table.

Even more worryingly for Ballymena, they are now 10 points behind ninth-placed Buccaneers and look favourites to automatically drop out of the top flight.

Andy Graham's squad have also shipped two huge reverses from their last two game which has seen them concede a horrible 109 points.

The sides previously met in last month's Senior Cup final which Armagh narrowly won and, with just five points separating them from second-placed Malone, Willie Faloon's squad know that the right result could see them rocket up the table again.

The Braidmen have Marcus Rea released to them again but Bruce Houston is sidelined, while Graham hopes that JJ McKee and Stephen Mulholland will come through fitness tests.

Armagh are planning to have Oisin Kiernan, Eoin O'Hagan and Andrew Smyth, along with Daryl Morton and Robert Whitten, all in harness.

The final play of last week's game denied Malone the win at Naas, after they had fought back from trailing 14-0, which resulted in the Gibson Park side being nudged off top spot.

With only two more home games left from the remaining five rounds, Malone will be in the mood to bounce back.

Joe Dunleavy is expected to be released while the availability of Jack Owens, Ross Kane and Graham Curtis is to be confirmed.

Fourth-placed Ballynahinch host Naas a week after just shading their Ulster derby at Banbridge and have Zack McCall, Jack Regan and Bradley Luney on board, while Johnny McPhillips might be also released.

Banbridge travel to leaders Old Wesley and the now fifth-placed side have Caleb Montgomery, Greg Jones and David McCann released from Ulster as they bid to halt a two-game losing run.

1B: Old Wesley v Banbridge (1.15pm), Ballynahinch v Naas, Armagh v Ballymena, Malone v Buccaneers

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