Ballymena Rugby Club head coach Andy Graham admits the club’s Ulster Bank All-Ireland League Division 1B fixture list revives some happy memories for him.
Having visited some of Irish rugby’s more remote outposts during two recent stints in the third tier, the Braidmen can now look forward to locking horns with some of the country’s biggest club sides after promotion last season.
“For the players, it’s a chance to go to places like Garryowen and Shannon,” said Graham.
“When I was playing, those used to be some of the top fixtures in Ireland and although it’s not in the top division, they are still top clubs.
“We want to consolidate our position in Division 1B - that is the number one thing - but if we can get a win or two early on and build up a bit of form and momentum, we don’t know where it could take us.
“The fact there are home and away matches adds to it because now the other teams will know a bit more about you.
“As always it will be a war of attrition. Last season our away form was as good as our home form, which was pleasing. We’ve actually found that it can be more difficult to prepare for a home game whereas when we are all away together, it’s sometimes easier to prepare for an away match because the players are more focused.
“Last year we beat Dungannon, Harlequins and Malone who were ranked above us so we can take confidence from that but it’s about sustaining it throughout a league campaign rather than a one-off situation.”
Ballymena begin their campaign on Saturday with a home match against Galway side Corinthians (2.30pm).