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New-look Ballynahinch are hoping to make their mark

 

By Michael Sadlier

After a season of just about hanging on in the top flight, Ballynahinch and Ballymena are planning for better returns in this campaign while for newcomers Banbridge it will be about quickly learning the ropes in a higher division.

Hinch finished up in seventh last season and now, with Brian McLaughlin heading up a new coaching structure at the club after coming in for the long-serving Derek Suffern, the Ballymacarn Park club are targeting a fresh assault on challenging further up the 1B table.

They have gathered up plenty of new faces as well regarding playing personnel and one such squad member is Zac Ward, son of former Ulster skipper Andy, with the 18-year-old back-rower seeming likely to make his AIL bow when Hinch travel to Old Belvedere - who came down from 1A - for what certainly looks a tough opener.

If selected Ward should be one third of a Hinch back-row which also contains Ollie Loughead who joined the Co Down club in the off-season from Belfast Harlequins.

Hinch are also expecting to have Mo Simpson available as well as Aaron Cairns - who is likely to be skipper as James Simpson seems set to miss out with injury - while ex-Ulster squad member John Donnan will be at lock for the showdown.

"We're expecting a big test first up but our guys are showing glimpses that they can be a good team," said Hinch director of rugby Ronnie Duncan.

"This is a completely new bunch of players and counting school leavers we've recruited 32 players over the summer, and we know that 1B will be difficult but I think, as a squad, we're in a better place."

Meanwhile Banbridge get their first taste of life in the league's upper tier when they make the trip to Limerick where UL Bohemians await Dan Soper's side.

Bann won automatic promotion last term after claiming the 2A title and Soper is under no illusions that the step up will be considerable for his hard-working squad.

The Rifle Park side have Rob Lyttle and Nick Timoney in the side for the meeting with Bohs who made last season's promotion play-offs in 1B.

Ballymena, who just about stayed clear of being dragged into the previous campaign's relegation mire, after a last day win over Shannon, are at Old Wesley and Andy Graham should have Clive Ross, Dave Shanahan and Brett Herron all on board.

Div 1A: Buccaneers v Lansdowne, Cork Con v Clontarf, Dublin University v Terenure, St Mary's v Garryowen, Young Munster v UCD

Div 1B: Dolphin v Naas, Old Belvedere v Ballynahinch, Old Wesley v Ballymena, UCC v Shannon, UL Bohs v Banbridge

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