THE big day is almost here.
Banbridge will face Ballymena in their first ever Senior Cup final at Ravenhill tomorrow (7.30pm).
It’s a day that the Rifle Park club have been looking forward to since they became a senior side in 1999.
Ravenhill appearances were a regular occurrence for Banbridge’s 1st XV in the late 80’s and 90’s when they dominated Junior rugby in Ulster.
But they haven’t been back at Ulster HQ since 1988, ironically when they lost 13-0 to Ballymena Seconds in the Junior Cup final.
“We don’t have a strong tradition of these games but I believe we have the players to get us through the game,” coach Daniel Soper said.
“We don’t have a strong tradition of playing in these big games. The last time we reached a final in the Town’s Cup was a long time ago and the closest any of these players have come to a ‘do-or-die’ game was the play-off against Old Wesley last season which we lost.
“Banbridge are massive underdogs but that might work in our favour. The pressure is all on Ballymena. If they don’t win the trophy then there will be questions asked of their players.”
Soper says he hadn’t really thought about the final until recently as he had been focused on the game against Ards on Saturday - a game they won impressively (see page 39).
“I don’t think motivation will be lacking,” he said.
“We know it is going to be a massive challenge - Ballymena are a two leagues above us and they are in good form .
“They are currently two points ahead of Ballynahinch.
“Our form is good too, we are joint third and a point behind Rainey. We’re rueing missed opportunities but that is past us.
“There is a gap of two leagues between us and that is a pretty big gap. But we have nothing to lose from the game.
Banbridge have doubts over New Zealander Brendan Ward, who has a reoccurance of a hamstring injury, Jonny Lyttle and Stephen Irvine who ran off injured during Saturday’s game.
“We have a good group of guys at the club. Most of them are Banbridge born and bred and there is a good camaraderie amongst them all as most of them played together through the youth system,” Soper added.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to get their hands on a major trophy and also to get some big game experience which some of our senior players have never had.
“However that lack of experience and being thrown into the unknown can sometimes be a good thing.
“Bnabridge is a good, strong club with some good people running it and they deserve to enjoy themselves on the night.
“We’ve got a good youth set-up as well including a lot of young up-and-coming players in our U19 side so hopefully our senior team can give them something to aspire to in the future.”
- The Leader will have coverage from the game on our websites on Thursday morning as well as updates throughout the evening on Twitter.
And there will be comprehensive coverage and pictures from the game in Tuesday’s paper.