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Braid must unlock tight defence

By Ronnie Ingram

Ballymena Academy will have to get the better of one of the tightest defences in the country if they are to win the Danske Bank Schools' Shield for an eighth time.

The Academy are going for a fifth Shield success in the last eight years, but standing in their way in today's derby final at Shaw's Bridge (2.30pm) is a Dalriada team that has conceded just 25 points in four games played in the Schools' Cup and Shield.

A last minute conversion from Ballyclare High broke the Academy's hearts in the Schools' Cup, but since that 10-9 defeat they have gone on to eliminate Belfast High (31-14) and Limavady Grammar (14-8) in the Shield, despite their squad being hit with injuries.

"We have been without our Ulster Schools' and Irish trialist back row Josh McIlroy since after Christmas and our versatile second row forward Alex Connolly is also out due to a shoulder problem," revealed coach Gavin Murray.

"Winger Ryan McKee sustained a knee injury and although we would prefer all three to be in the squad, we have more than able replacements and their absences do not really weaken us."

Murray still has four representative players in his line-up, including Ulster Schools' captain Duncan Maguire at No 8.

It is 27 years since Dalriada celebrated their only success in the competition and they only went out of the Schools' Cup 14-7 to RBAI after trouncing Portadown College 26-0.

They have also recorded convincing wins in their Shield ties against Rainey Endowed (20-9) and Bangor Grammar (20-0), with Ulster under-19 out-half Timmy Emerson being instrumental.

"They are a great bunch of lads who all fight for each other," said coach David Dougherty, who is now in his second year at the school.

"They have been working hard and you normally get out what you put in so we will be up to the task.

"I know that Ballymena Academy have the rugby tradition and they had a narrow 16-12 win over us just before Christmas, but we are ready to go."

Belfast Telegraph


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