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Malone have nothing to lose in 'cup final' promotion bid, argues coach Armstrong

 

Paddy Armstrong
Paddy Armstrong

By Michael Sadlier

Malone must clear a major hurdle to stay on track for back-to-back promotions in tomorrow's All-Ireland League promotion play-off semi-final at UCC.

The former 1B leaders find themselves in this position after finishing fourth in the table and will want to give departing coach Paddy Armstrong an ideal send-off by getting through this challenging trip south.

They would then take on the winner between Old Wesley and Naas in the play-off final for a place in Division 1A next season.

Should Malone make it two play-off victories - the second of which will also have to be achieved on the road - they will then follow already-promoted Ballynahinch into the top tier just as new head coach Chris Henry takes over at Gibson Park.

But Malone have plenty to deal with before they can contemplate a play-off final as the Cork students, who finished ninth in 1A, are favourites to prevail at the Mardyke and will be going all out to avoid defeat and relegation to 1B.

Armstrong should have the impressive Joe Dunleavy on club duty for this knockout clash but will have to do without Adam McBurney and Jack Owens.

"It's great to still be involved at this part of the season and we're just going to give it a go," said Armstrong.

"It's cup final time, so it's just about taking your chances on the day and being clinical.

"UCC will be favourites and the pressure will be on them. We're just looking at putting in a really good performance and giving it our all because we have nothing to lose."

In Division 2A, Queen's University head to Navan for their promotion final and the students will travel buoyed by their terrific late-season form which has seen them win their last eight games including last weekend's edge-of-the-seat victory at Buccaneers which sent the Connacht side down from 1B.

Now coach Derek Suffern's squad find themselves on the cusp of breaking through to taste life in 1B and have just one more game to negotiate against a side who finished one place (third) and a solitary point ahead of them in the 2A table.

Team manager Chris Moore said: "We have put ourselves in a tremendous position since losing to Cashel back in January, and since then we have been really consistent.

"Our results have shown our consistency and we have done all the hard work, we just have to see it through.

"It would be brilliant in this the club's 150th year if we got promoted."

Queen's should have their strongest side available with big games expected of the excellent David Whitten and Rory Bell.

Rainey Old Boys are just one win away from making it to Division 2A after agonisingly missing out last season via the play-off final which they hosted.

Now coach John Andrews and his squad - who finished third in Division 2B - have a shot at making up for the previous campaign's near miss when they take on Blackrock College in Dublin.

Rainey had a very close encounter in their defeat in last Saturday's semi-final at Greystones and the Magherafelt side badly want to do a job on 'Rock, who will be relegated from 2A should they lose.

They have even more motivation in that this is expected to be veteran lock Tim Barker's last game for the club as the former Ulster, Castres and Glasgow player is likely to hang up his boots for good after tomorrow's showdown.

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