Banbridge RFC are set to welcome back one of the stars of recent years.
Scrum-half Ian Porter has returned to the club after his two year deal with Connacht ended.
Also coming back to Rifle Park is prop Michael Cromie, who played professionally for Stade Rodez in France and Rotherham during the last two seasons.
Bann also have another eight new recruits, including RBAI’s Schools’ Cup winning captain Conor Field.
However, Nico Vorster has had to call time on his career through injury and Shandon Scott has left to go to New Zealand.
Banbridge begin the season on Saturday with their now traditional practice game against Instonians (kick-off TBC).
And coach Daniel Soper is excited about his side’s prospects after a summer spent strengthening the squad.
“After going so close to winning automatic promotion last season, only to lose out in the play-offs, we knew that we needed a bit more depth to see us through the 18 All-Ireland games,” he said.
“It’s great to see Ian Porter and Michael Cromie back training at Rifle Park after their time spent in the professional ranks and the experience and quality they bring can only raise the level of overall performance.
“We also have (winger) Andrew Kirkwood and (scrum-half) Aaron Kennedy back after their year in New Zealand and they are itching to show how their time abroad has improved their game.
“Flanker Ryan Hughes has joined us from Dromore and he looks a more than welcome addition to the squad.
“We also have Philip Jordan back after a spell at Tullamore and that too will beef up the forward ranks.”
Soper remarked on how fortunate Bann were last year in having the minimum disruption through injury to his first-choice AIL squad. “That certainly helped us to claim second but we learnt the importance of sharing the load and so we knew that we needed more depth,” he added.
The coach was able to add to the ranks of outside backs through the recruitment of three players graduating from youth and schools rugby. Winger Conor Field was skipper of the RBAI side coached by Soper which won the Schools’ Cup in March and wing/centre Josh Agnew was in the Royal School Armagh side last season. Ciaran Hughes featured in the Ulster Youth side last year although his move to Rifle Park may depend on what university course he takes.
“We plan to take a 30-man squad to Shaw’s Bridge on Saturday and over the course of 4 x 30min sessions give everyone a taste of the action. Andrew Magrath is still involved with the Ulster Development squad but apart from him we should be able to run the eye over all our new recruits.”
Bann’s first competitive action takes place the following Thursday, 25th August, when they travel to Armagh for an Ulster Premiership game, with the first home match on 10th September when City of Derry are the visitors.
The All-Ireland action kicks off the following week, 17th September, when newly-promoted Sunday’s Well make the journey from Cork.