First Trust Senior Cup Final: Wednesday 10th December 2014: Ballynahinch v Malone: Kick Off 7.30pm. By George Millar

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Silverware and the opportunity for Ulster AIL clubs and players to add winners medals to their personal collection are prized as such opportunities do not present themselves too often to Ulster clubs in the All Ireland league. Ulster’s number one club Ballynahinch slipped up last season at the Kingspan stadium to Queens in the Senior Cup final losing 16 – 10. The goal for the County Down side is to win this Cup on Wed night. The winners will then join the other three provincial Cup winners in playing for the All Ireland Bateman Cup in the new year with the final televised live by RTE. Jacque Benade’s Malone side will enter the final with the intentions of ending a barren twenty two year wait, since the 1st XV last won the Senior Cup. Then they defeated North of Ireland 13 – 3 in the 1991/92 final. The team have contested six finals between 1995/96 and 2009/10 losing each one. Ballynahinch have won the Senior Cup once, defeating Ballymena 19 – 0 in the 2008/9 final and losing three other finals between 2001/2 and 2013/14. In the win over Ballymena, the late Nevin Spence scored the only try. Over the last three years the two finalists have met seven times in the AIL /UCL/USC with Ballynahinch winning five, drawing one and losing one. Malone’s only win came when they defeated Ballynahinch 17 -13 in October 2012 in the Senior Cup. On route to this years final, Ards conceded their 1st round game to Ballynahinch. In both their quarter and semi final games Ballynahinch needed late scores to defeat Armagh 17 – 16 and City of Derry 19 – 14. Malone received a bye in the 1st round and defeated Rainey 62 – 16 on their 3G pitch in a enthralling quarter final. Despite an injury crisis, Malone stunned Ballymena in the semi final at Eaton Park to win 17 – 13. Both clubs have had to rely on their club players in recent weeks due to Ulster Ravens commitments in the British & Irish Cup. Despite these call ups, Ballynahinch have had James Simpson, Jonny Murphy, Craig Trenier and Ross Adair available to bolster their playing squad. Their impressive 14-10 win over Div 1A league leaders Terenure College at Ballymacarn Park on Sat would make them clear favourites to win on Wed night. The two back rows will need to be on top of their game with David McGuigan. Paul Pritchard and Michael Graham lining out for Hinch and Ben McDonnell, John Burns and Ben Alexander for Malone. Both sides have plenty of attacking options with Hinch Captain Harry McAleese looking to exploit the pace in his three quarters. Centre Richard Reaney has been a match winner with his kicking and crucial tries in key matches. Malone will look to the pace of Michael Barker, Rory Campbell and Andy Bryan’s in the three quarters to finish off the openings created by Shane Kelly, Neil Burns and Josh Pentland. The front five in each pack will rely on players like Jonny Madden and Jonny Murphy for Hinch and Malone Captain Darryl Maxwell, Ross Kane and Cory Tipping to provide clean ball for their talented back lines with both sides renowned for their attacking rugby. Hinch 1st XV Manager Ronnie Duncan is expecting a hard game on Wed night. “The players are going out to win and make amends for last season. The key to their performances this season has been the exceptional form of the pack with David McGuigan and Paul Pritchard outstanding in the backrow.” Three brothers John, Neil and Thomas Burns played for Malone at Shannon in their narrow 12 – 10 AIL defeat on Sat. Have we ever had three brothers play for the same team in a Ulster Senior Cup Final ? How are the three other provinces progressing with their Senior Cup programme. In Leinster, Clontarf and UCD will contest their final on the 27 th Dec. UCD are the current Leinster Cup holders and lost the All Ireland Bateman Cup final to Cork Constitution last season. In Munster they play their semi finals this week end with Young Munster hosting Cork Constitution and UL Bohemians taking on Garryowen. Cork Constitution are the current holders winning both the Munster Senior Cup and All Ireland Bateman Cup in 2012/13 and 2013/14. In Connacht Galwegians have won the Connacht Senior Cup for the last three seasons. Both them and Buccaneers will contest this years final. The All Ireland Bateman Cup semi finals will be staged on the 7th February 2015 with the final on 18 th April. Tickets are available to purchase for the First Trust Senior Cup Final at the Kingspan stadium on wed night. Let’s make the effort to go along and support both teams.

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