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McKeever eyes piece of Ballyclare history

 

Clear aim: Mike McKeever is keen to retain the Towns Cup
Clear aim: Mike McKeever is keen to retain the Towns Cup

By Michael Sadlier

Ballyclare are intent on taking something tangible from their season by retaining the River Rock Towns Cup in today's final showdown with Enniskillen at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 2.30pm).

After agonisingly missing out on winning the Championship Division One league title due to a last-day defeat which saw Instonians come through to claim top honours - by finishing second again, the Co Antrim club lost out on a shot at making senior rugby in the AIL via the round-robin play-offs - Ballyclare are, unsurprisingly, eager to hold onto the Towns Cup.

And should they do so, it will be the first time that the progressive club will have won the trophy in back-to-back seasons which would also be appropriate timing as they are marking their 70th year in existence. But Enniskillen will not be travelling to Belfast simply to assist Ballyclare in feeling good about themselves again. This will be the Fermanagh club's third final in the last four years, though they may have even more motivation to get their hands on the Cup as it has not resided in the Erne County town since 1937.

Even though Ballyclare are favourites to win, Enniskillen will not be in any way overawed by facing the side which finished five places, and 40 points, ahead of them in the league.

And Robert Baloucoune's home club only narrowly lost out on their last two final appearances, in 2016 and the following year, and have a pack of forwards who can cause the current holders plenty of problems.

Ballyclare head coach Mike McKeever said: "They have a strong pack and are very physical. They will try to shut down our backs and we are very aware of this threat."

And of their desire to round off the season with silverware, McKeever added: "I think it's needed.

"You can talk about having a pretty good season and our win ratio and so on, but ultimately you want to win something.

"Last season we were also second in the league and managed to win the Towns Cup.

"To retain it is now the challenge for us and it's something new for Ballyclare as they've never done it.

"It helps that it's just 12 months since we were there and, as such, we've got that experience which will hopefully assist us on the day."

Before that, and also at the Kingspan, the destiny of the McCrea Cup will be fought out by Grosvenor and Queen's University Seconds (kick-off 12.30pm).

Grosvenor have made quite an impact after their return to Division One with an impressive fourth-place finish in the table and winning the Cup would bring the curtain down on a tremendous season for coach Robert Ford and his squad.

Queen's have also made great strides in this campaign and recently secured their league title, though they still have to face a play-off against Malone for a place in next season's 2nd XV league.

Though Grosvenor are favourites, this should be quite a clash.

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