BANBRIDGE should channel the heartache of losing the First Trust Senior Cup final into an inspiration to lead the club on to bigger and better things.
The locals lost narrowly, 17-11, to Ballymena in the Ravenhill final on Wednesday evening.
It’s a feeling the locals have felt before, having lost last year’s play-off final to Old Wesley. But, having just missed out on promotion to Division 2A last season, Banbridge have continued where they left off and are perfectly placed in the Division 2B table to launch a major push for promotion when the AIL campaign resumes in January.
Soper said: “Getting to the final was a wee bonus for us, because it was by no means a focus for us in this season.
“It will hold us well for the future and to get to play at Ravenhill in a big final occasion is brilliant for the boys and the club. They certainly played well and can be proud of their efforts, but on the day we were beaten by a better side in the end, one who took their chances.”
It was the Rifle Park club’s first Senior Cup final appearance, making it an historic occasion, and while they were huge underdogs, the two league difference in the All Ireland League, was not evident.
There were certainly some disappointed faces at the end, but that was due to the fact the Bann players had realised they had missed a great opportunity.
Soper agreed that the final was probably lost in the first half after their dominant showing.
“We did not capitalise on the position and possession we had. We missed a couple of shots at goal and we sort of tried to hard to score instead of keeping the ball which we do so well. We were certainly winning enough penalties when we kept the ball.
“We had to be ahead at the break and probably should have been. I think if it had been 12-7 at the break and not 6-7, it would have made a difference.
“But at the same time they were better at the wee margins and that probably is the difference between Division 1 and Division 2B. Ballymena defended well and a couple of loose kicks gave them the chances to score, and they took them.”
For about 50 minutes Banbridge had given Ballymena plenty to think about and when the Braidmen went down to 14 men on a sin-binning, one felt the advantage would swing to the underdogs.
Instead, Ballymena went on to dominate and scored a vital converted try to put them eight points clear.
Bann rallied in the closing minutes and did finally breach an impressive Ballymena defence – the division one side down to 14 again with another sin binning.
Soper accepted that it probably did give a more respectable look to the scoreline and added: “They are two league sections ahead of us and we pushed them pretty hard.
“In many facets of the game we were the equal of the team currently on top of Division 1B. Our pack was good and they were able to play and bring in some of their Ulster Academy players, and they certainly made a difference.
“Certainly making the final has been a huge boost and it will hold us well for the future. We return to the All Ireland in January and it is important we continue to make the progress we have if we are to fulfil our target for the year.”