Time is right for Ballymena to realise potential says coach

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 believes the time is now right for his side to realise the potential it has shown in recent seasons.

The Eaton Park side has an opportunity to end a three-year trophy famine when they take on Ballynahinch in the final of the First Trust Senior Cup at the Kingspan Stadium on Thursday night.

For Graham and his side it is the chance to bring to fruition the plans that were put in place when he succeeded John Andrews as head coach in 2013.

“To get to the final proves we’re going in the right direction which is a start but to go on and win it is very much what we hope to do.

“I think the whole attitude and maturity they have shown has maybe been the difference this season compared with the previous two years.

“They are still a young group of players but they have been playing together now for a couple of seasons and that maturity is starting to show in the way they consistently perform.

“There have been games where we maybe haven’t played terribly well for periods of the game but we have still been able to do enough to win the game which is pleasing.

“We have that inner belief now in ourselves and confidence and we work out now when playing teams what’s the best way to beat them on the pitch.

“The whole challenge with players a lot of the time is that they’re not programmed to just do certain things - they have to be able to react to what is happening on the pitch so that is one of the most pleasing things about our guys, the character that they show and their ability to react to situations and to change our gameplan to do whatever it takes to get the win.”

“We have built on last year when we had a good squad but it probably just wasn’t strong enough.

Despite Ballynahinch languishing at the foot of All-Ireland League Division 1A, while Ballymena are flying high at the top of 1B, Graham refutes suggestions that the teams are fairly evenly matched.

“I think there’s a fair difference. There’s no doubt that on our day we could beat some of those teams in 1A but to consistently do that over the course of a league campaign would be difficult.

“Our pack have been very strong season and we have been dominating teams in most games this season. That’s where the battles are won and lost and then its up to the backs how they control the game and the number of scores you get. If your forward pack gets the upper hand it’s certainly a big help.

“The breakdown area is going to be a big area as well. They have very good back row and a former Ballymena player in Paul Pritchard, their club captain, and he is a super player.

“We’ve already played Ballynahinch and beat them in the Ulster League so it’s up to us to replicate that and show we’re still progressing as the season goes on,” adds Graham.