Rugby coach aims for strong finish in All-Ireland League

Ballymena Rugby Club head coach Andy Graham. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena Rugby Club head coach Andy Graham. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena Rugby Club coach Andy Graham has backed his players to realise their All-Ireland League promotion dream.

The Eaton Park side return to AIL duty this Saturday on the back of two successive defeats - having lost once in their previous 11 matches before that.

But as Ballymena head to Blackrock College this weekend, Graham is confident that his men can recover from their mid-season stumble to finish at least in the play-off positions, as they bid to return to the top tier of Irish club rugby.

“We have got ourselves into the position now where it would be very bad if we didn’t finish in one of the top four positions,” Graham told Times Sport.

“I felt Buccaneers probably deserved their victory over us but losing to St Mary’s with the last play of the game was a hard one to take.

“We had a game last season around the same time of the year against Trinity where we were in a good position in the league but we lost and we never really recovered from that - I would be confident we have a stronger, more experienced squad this year.

“The players are ready to bounce back from those two defeats and a wee rest from having no match last weekend won’t have done any harm,” added Graham.

The coach will have to wait to see if hooker James Taggart has recovered from a shoulder injury while Connor Smyth is rated doubtful after playing for the Irish club side in France last weekend.

Lock David Whann, who also played in that match, will miss the match as he is on his stag weekend.

Prop Andy Warwick is on Ulster duty so Michael Lagan starts at loose head.

Clive Ross should be released and Stephen Mulholland is available.

Dave Shanahan’s participation will depend on Ruan Pienaar’s availability for Ulster.

Ballymena won the first meeting 43-13 at Eaton Park but Graham felt the margin of victory didn’t reflect the game.

“We were doing a bit of video work on the first game, they are a big side and they played very well against us, the score line flattered us we scored four tries in the last seven or eight minutes and up to that it was difficult enough, it won’t be easy by any means and we are missing players,” added Graham.