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Hinch relishing life back in top tier, says McAleese

Major boost: Ross Adair is available for Ballynahinch
Major boost: Ross Adair is available for Ballynahinch

By Michael Sadlier

There's a different vibe around Ballymacarn Park these days as Ballynahinch prepare for their first taste of AIL action in Division 1A since they last exited the top tier back in 2016.

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Terenure are the visitors for the opening round of the Energia AIL - yes, there's a sponsor on board again - and Hinch know that they are now a smaller fish in a much bigger pond.

Hinch, Ulster's sole presence in 1A, are also acutely aware that they need to begin well to try and avoid what they experienced the previous occasion they were operating at this height when the Co Down side won just five games.

But all has already changed somewhat in regards to last season when Hinch not only took the 1B title but also landed the SONI Ulster Premiership.

Brian McLaughlin's squad have lost all three Ulster League games coming into their AIL opener, and have relinquished any prospects of retaining that title which is not typical Hinch behaviour, though, of course, this is no definitive indication of how things will pan out in the AIL.

A good result against Terenure will go a long way towards bringing much-needed momentum back to their fixture list as well as yielding valuable points for their AIL campaign.

Hinch Director of Rugby Harry McAleese said: "It's nice to start at home.

"We're really looking forward to the challenge. Yes, we've been there before and we're glad to be back.

"We haven't been in this league for three years and we really want to get off to a good start and take it from there.

"We've a lot of the boys back from last season who finished the season so well so we're hoping to get momentum and we have, at least, had a settled team for the last few weeks."

Though Ulster 'A' have been taking their cut, Hinch do, at least, have utility back Ross Adair available, having come back to the club this week after his notably positive shift in the Celtic Cup, for this key AIL opener.

Tom Stewart and Conor Rankin may also feature but this is dependent on how they came through Ulster 'A' duties last night.

Another boost is having both Aaron Cairns and Bradley Luney fit again.

City of Armagh are also at home and welcome Naas to the Palace Grounds.

Willie Faloon's squad arrive at this point in pretty decent form having won all five domestic games they have played - three in the league and two from the Senior Cup - which has, naturally, boosted squad confidence.

Though Armagh finished in eighth place last season, and Naas third, there was notable congestion in the table which resulted in the Palace Grounds side see-sawing up and down the placings.

This time, they feel better prepared.

Assistant coach Chris Parker said: "Winning breeds confidence and we're taking that from the last five weeks going forward."

Chris Henry's first AIL game in charge at Malone is down in Cork with newly-promoted Highfield and the Gibson Park club are keen to improve on last season's fourth-place finish.

Lock Matthew Dalton may be available for the trip.

Banbridge, with Mark McDowell now coaching the Rifle Park outfit, are at Old Wesley.

Div 1A: Ballynahinch v Terenure. Div 1B: City Of Armagh v Naas, Highfield v Malone, Old Wesley v Banbridge.

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