Ballymena Second XV target Towns Cup glory on Easter Monday

BALLYMENA Rugby Club’s Second XV are determined to enjoy taking centre stage in next Monday’s Powerade Towns’ Cup final.

Sunday, 8th April 2012, 9:51 am

While the Eaton Park club’s First XV are still involved in a battle for promotion to the top tier of Irish Club rugby, the Seconds will be aiming for one of the most-sought-after trophies in junior rugby in the Easter Monday showpiece.

Ballymena take on Clogher Valley in the Ravenhill decider (2.30pm) and coach Niall O’Loan – who played in Ballymena Seconds’ last Towns’ Cup-winning team in 2005 – says his players are ready for the challenge.

“It’s a massive thrill for the boys to be playing at Ravenhill – they just wish the game was tomorrow,” O’Loan told Times Sport.

“With the exception of James Taggart, no-one else in the squad has played in a Towns’ Cup final and as a squad, the players haven’t had a lot of experience of playing at Ravenhill.

“Paul Campbell, who’s our oldest player, played there for Ballymena Academy in the 1999 Schools’ Cup final but his game was ended after just two minutes when he fractured an eye socket, so he’ll be hoping for a longer stay on the pitch this time!”

Ballymena’s route to the final has been far from an easy one. The Towns’ Cup pits senior clubs’ Second XVs against the First XVs of the Province’s top junior clubs, and Ballymena have had to overcome some big names on the way.

Having started with a walkover against Letterkenny, Ballymena then defeated Coleraine, thereby avenging defeat by the Bannsiders in the semi-final of the Junior Cup.

Another tough hurdle was overcome against Ballynahinch II in the quarter-final in what O’Loan describes as “our most complete 80 minutes of rugby this season” before a semi-final victory at Enniskillen, where a couple of late scores gave the 37-19 scoreline a slightly flattering look.

O’Loan believes that Ballymena Seconds’ participation in the Conference League – where they are again up against leading clubs’ First XVs rather than the mismatches which often occur at Second XV level – has been instrumental in the team’s excellent season.

“The players have developed by playing against better quality opponents and it has also meant we haven’t been caught cold when we meet that type of opposition in the Towns’ Cup or Junior Cup.

“It should also help the club as a whole because it has helped bridge the gap that existed between Second XV and First XV rugby and hopefully within three or four years, a lot of these players will be mainstays in the First XV.

“A number of players have had very good season individually but the real strength has probably been as a team – the players have really gelled as a unit and have shown great unity on and off the field.

“It will be a really tough test against Clogher Valley because they have traditionally been one of the pacesetters in junior rugby.

“They have just gone through their Qualifying League undefeated and they have a few dangerous players but if we can move the ball around the big pitch the way we know we can, then we have every chance – it’s all on the day,” added O’Loan.

Ballymena Second XV squad: Paul Campbell (captain), Matthew Banks, Garrett Bell, Chris Cundell, Andrew Ferguson, Adrian Graham, Adrian Hamilton, Keith Lamont, Allen McCluggage, Robbie McGreer, Willie McKay, Darrell Montgomery, Kyle Moore, John Nicholl, David O’Hara, Joshua Patterson, Mike Smith, Alan Smyth, Chris Smyth, Connor Smyth, James Taggart, Ian Vance, Craig Wallace.