Hinch aiming to keep their hands on cup
Ballynahinch are intent on bringing some much-needed feel-good factor to their season by retaining the First Trust Senior Cup when they meet Ballymena tonight in the showpiece final at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.30pm).
While the Co Down side are currently struggling at the foot of the All-Ireland League's Division 1A, they are determined to back up their first recent win of the current league campaign by keeping their grip on some domestic silverware in what will be only their fourth Senior Cup final.
Ballymena, though, are old hands and have triumphed 14 times in their previous 22 domestic showdowns with their last victory coming three seasons back when they defeated Rainey Old Boys to keep the cup for a second year.
The Braidmen are also currently the form team in Ulster and are pushing hard for promotion at the top end of the AIL's Division 1B and though both clubs are experiencing contrasting fortunes in the AIL, tonight's one-off game is still expected to be a closely-fought affair.
Even though both sides have been each hit by call-ups for this weekend's Ulster A game in the British and Irish Cup, Hinch coach Derek Suffern, and his Ballymena counterpart Andy Graham, have both still been able to field reasonably strong teams.
"One of our goals for the season was to try and retain the cup," said Suffern who also coached the side when they won their first ever final by beating Ballymena back in 2008-09.
"It should be a hotly contested game and we have a lot of respect for Ballymena who are going really well in the AIL."
Hinch have Aaron Cairns back from his stint in the A squad and he will be at scrum-half tonight while flanker Paul Pritchard -who has won winners' medals with both Hinch and Ballymena - is on the bench.
Ballymena have Mattie Rea back from the As, and at number eight, while veteran second row Ian Caldwell is in action.
Martin Irwin and Rodger McBurney are part of a dangerous-looking backline.
It's a first chance for Ballymena's current coaching structure of Graham, Nicky Wells and Bryan Young to win the trophy, though both Graham and Young won it several times as players at the club.
"It is a level playing field for both teams.
"We've got the form, but they are in a higher league so it will be interesting to see," said Graham.
The winners enter the All-Ireland Cup semi-finals.
Ballymena: R McBurney; J Foster, P James, M Irwin, J Beattie; R McMaster, G Daillie; M Lagan, A McBurney, C Cundell, D Whann, I Caldwell, M Shiels, W McKay, M Rea
Replacements: A Ferguson, J Taggart, P McGowan, J Creighton, J Rosborough
Ballynahinch: M Eden; A Craig, R Harte, R Reaney, C Quinn; J McBriar, A Cairns; K Hamilton/J Blair, Z McCall, C Trenier, J Madden, J Simpson, G Gill, D McGuigan, M Graham
Replacements: S Orr, A Harper, P Pritchard, J Grattan, D Nicholson
Referee: J Erskine