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Stateside absences will not distract Malone from our task: Armstrong

AIL Division 1B

Physical forward: Matt Dalton should be with Malone
Physical forward: Matt Dalton should be with Malone

By Michael Sadlier

It's getting tense now. Three games to go and all five Ulster clubs are battling for results so hardly ideal timing for the province to send an 'A' squad to Boston.

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And the Ulster 'A' trip to the States has had a weighty impact on Malone, Ballynahinch and Banbridge, as well as the now desperate fight for survival at Ballymena, regarding their normal player releases, while City of Armagh have no such issues with their purely club player-based squad.

Indeed, Malone host Armagh in what is a must-win situation for the Gibson Park side after losing their last three games.

Paddy Armstrong's squad now find themselves fourth in the table and in danger of slipping out of the play-off positions which would be a huge blow for the former leaders and for their coach who stands down at the end of the season ahead of Chris Henry taking over.

Malone have managed to secure a player release from Ulster, though, with lock Matt Dalton expected to be in the side while club players Ryan Clarke and James McCallister are also available.

"With the way the league is going, I'd say it is going to go to the wire on the last day," said Armstrong of the still congested 1B table.

"But we need a big performance against Armagh."

Malone are, though, without the services of Ross Kane, Peter Cooper, Joe Dunleavy, Graham Curtis, Jack Owens, Stewart Moore and Ben McCaughey who are all Stateside while Adam McBurney has not been released by Ulster.

"It is what it is," Armstrong said of the situation.

"We have confidence in the boys that we are putting out on Saturday."

Armagh have won their last two games and are in third but just one point behind Hinch and leaders Old Wesley.

Hinch host Old Belvedere, who are in seventh and battling to stay clear of the drop zone.

Forwards James Simpson and Ollie Loughead return from injury as coach Brian McLaughlin has to make do without the services of Zack McCall, Clayton Milligan, Bradley Luney, Jack Regan, Johnny McPhillips, Iwan Hughes and Lewis Finlay or indeed any other Ulster-related releases with neither Tom O'Toole or Peter Nelson thought to be available.

Conor Piper comes in at hooker for the missing McCall and Milligan while Ryan Wilson is at 10.

Banbridge, currently in sixth, are at home to Naas who are in fifth and just a point in front though the Rifle Park squad's main concern will be about staying clear of being dragged down to the danger zone.

Bottom side Ballymena are at St Mary's College and defeat will see them relegated regardless of other results.

1B: Ballynahinch v Old Belvedere, Banbridge v Naas, Malone v Armagh, St Mary's v Ballymena

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