Braidmen enter new season with optimism

Stephen Mulholland, Adam McBurney, Lewis McClintock, Ritchie McMaster and Sean Taylor, new players with Ballymena RFC. INBT33-220AC

Stephen Mulholland, Adam McBurney, Lewis McClintock, Ritchie McMaster and Sean Taylor, new players with Ballymena RFC. INBT33-220AC

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Ballymena Rugby Club head coach Andy Graham believes the feelgood factor can help his side adapt to the challenge they face this season.

The Braidmen are back in the second tier of Irish club rugby after clinching promotion back to Division 1B of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League on a dramatic final day of last season.

“It was very satisfying to gain promotion because if you don’t achieve it in the first year after being relegated, the task becomes harder because players start to get a bit disillusioned and heads can drop.

“After a season in which you win something or gain promotion, it also gives everybody a lift coming back for the new season and hopefully we can keep the momentum going.

“We used a lot of players and we had a number of players who stepped up from the Seconds and performed very well. We still have a very young side but they will have gained a lot of experience from last year.”

Graham has also added to his panel with a number of new arrivals including former Queen’s out-half Ritchie McMaster, back row duo Stephen Douglas and Stephen Mulholland - the latter returning after a season at Rainey - and former Junior Ulster centre Gary Clotworthy.

Graham has also tapped into the schools’ market by snapping up a number of ex-schoolboys including former Ballymena Academy winger Johnny Rosborough.

“There has been a huge difference in quality in our pre-season. The players are in better condition and their skill levels are better than this time last year so all that bodes well,” adds Andy.