Ulster Rugby Clubs Preview:
Excitement is building towards the start of the Ulster Senior League and Qualifying league One programmes this weekend. Clubs have been busy playing friendly fixtures over the last three weeks with some interesting results between Senior and Qualifying One clubs : Bangor winning 26 – 12 at home to Instonians and CIYMS winning 21 – 19 at Ards. Clogher Valley have put in two fine performances against Rainey Old Boys and Armagh in recent weeks losing 29 – 17 and 7 -5. Both City of Derry and Armagh who secured promotion to Senior rugby from Qualifying One have become established Senior clubs in Ulster and All Ireland League Rugby in recent seasons. The Ulster Senior League kicks off on Thursday the 29th August at Banbridge as the home club host Malone with a 7.30PM kick off. Malone narrowly lost out to Ballynahinch for the Ulster Senior League title last season. Banbridge consolidated their position in All Ireland League 2A and will want to build on this progress with a strong showing in the Ulster league. On Saturday the 31st August Armagh will host Dungannon at the Palace Grounds in a local derby that will not be short of endeavour and commitment. Both teams will be looking to secure the’ bragging rights’. Dungannon have been busy strengthening their playing squad and coach Paddy Johns will again be looking to build momentum after a strong finish to last season. Belfast Harlequins host Instonians at Deramore Park and should secure the league points after an encouraging 19 – 0 friendly win over Banbridge last Saturday. Ballymena entertain Queens at Eaton Park in what should be an open game between two young sides. Ballymena’s new coaching team of Andy Graham, Nicky Wells and Bryan Young have been encouraged by the squads early season performances against Hawick and Malone.
Ballynahinch will as Ulster’s top club want to retain the Stevenson Shield as league champions. City of Derry their opponents will want to go one step further and win the league title this season. Ballymacarn Park will provide a stern test for their league credentials. Ards under their new coaching team of Stuart Porter Scott Young and Gerry Flynn will go in as underdogs against the ‘high flying’ Rainey who potentially could mount a real challenge for the league after losing out to Ballymena in the Ulster Senior Cup Final last season.Rainey secured promotion to All Ireland League 2A after an unbeaten run in Division 2B. All fixtures kick off at 2.30pm.
Qualifying One. Saturday 31st August will see ten teams competing for that coveted league title. There is not much to choose between the sides with Portadown, CIYMS, Clogher Valley and newly promoted Bangor contenders for the league and that top four finish that guarantees a place in the All Ireland Junior Cup. Donaghadee, Dromore, Ballymoney and Coleraine will have a say in the leagues destination. Cooke and UUC will be looking to improve on their performances from finishing in the bottom three last season. The outstanding fixture on the opening day will see 2012/13 league champions Portadown travel to Upritchard Park to play newly promoted Bangor. An encouraging pre season with additions to their playing squad should see the league new comers Bangor securing the league points. A large crowd is expected at Upritchard Park for this game. Clogher Valley will welcome Ballymoney to Fivemiletown for another intriguing fixture with the home side favourites for the points. An early season tour to Canada and two outstanding performances against Senior opposition in pre season friendlies will have focused the minds of the players and coaches Glen Kyle and Davy Black on bringing more silverware back to the Craan. CIYMS should prove to strong for the students of UUC at the Riverside in Coleraine. The Belmont side are keen to build on their early pre season performances and their runners up place in the league last season. Donaldson Park will see home side Donaghadee host Dromore in a match that is difficult to call. The Dee men have achieved Cup and top four success in the last two seasons and will want to consolidate their position in this highly competitive league. Dromore have a young squad that has been developing over the last two seasons. Four pre season wins have sent out a strong message on their intentions this season. The Dee support will be out in large numbers to roar Paul McKenzie and Stuart Hennessey’s team on to an opening day win. The outstanding fixture at Coleraine will see the home team take on a Cooke team that disappointed last season following their runners up position to Clogher Valley in 2011/12. Coleraine have lost several players with the coaching staff having to rebuild during this transitional period. An opening day win is crucial for both teams to build confidence and momentum for the rest of the season.
For the Ulster rugby club supporter make sure you and your friends travel to support your home team. With the surge in interest in rugby in Ulster the grassroots of the game needs your support.
By George Millar