The new Ravenhill will be the setting for the climax to the Ulster Youth Rugby season this Saturday. We went to Rifle Park to see how the lads are preparing.
Having already picked up the Bowl at U15 level and the U17 Plate, Banbridge will be keen to collect a full set of trophies when they take on Ballynahinch in the final of the U19 Cup.
As holders of the trophy, as well as being current Ulster League champions, Bann will undoubtedly go into the final as favourites to beat their local rivals. But Coach Marc Eadie was sounding a note of caution as he looked forward to the game.
“Ballynahinch ran us very close in the Nutty-Krust Tournament so we’re well aware of what they’re capable of,” he said. “We haven’t played a game since 19 April and although the lads have been working hard in training, it’s easy to lose that match fitness.
“But with the experience of last year behind us I know the players won’t be over-awed playing at Ravenhill and if they can play anywhere near the level of which they’re capable they should have too much firepower for ‘Hinch.”
With 15 of the squad having featured in last year’s final, when the Rifle Park lads beat Portadown to lift the Cup, Bann will be well prepared for the wide open acres of Ulster’s home pitch. And fielding a back line brimful of pace, provided the Bann forwards can achieve parity up front then the threequarters should be able to capitalise by stretching the ‘Hinch defence beyond its limit.
“Our pack may not be the biggest,”said Eadie, “but they’re strong and mobile and good at the breakdown. And with half-backs Jason Gribbon and Macauley Little behind them to manage the game, we should be able to play the rugby in the right half of the pitch.”
Certainly scrum-half Gribbon will be a key player for Bann. The Ulster Youths scrum-half has enjoyed a superb season, as reflected in his nomination for the Ulster Youth Player of the Year award.
His ability to dictate from behind the set piece and provide quality ball for his three-quarters have been instrumental in Bann’s success this season.
Full-back Aaron Kennedy, who featured at scrum-half in the Ulster Schools squad last season while at Banbridge Academy, will also have a major role to play, not just as the team’s place kicker, but also through his incursions into the threequarters’ attacks.
Kennedy had several run-outs on Bann’s First XV this season and the pack also boasts three players with experience of the Ulster Senior League in hooker Timothy Savage, prop Jonny McCreery and flanker Richard Graham, who all featured in the senior Bann team that defeated Ards at the end of March.
And under the mature leadership of No 8 Adam Kelly, the forwards are well capable of dealing with anything ‘Hinch might throw at them.
For coaches Eadie and Willie Kirkwood, it will be the last game of their reign in charge at this level in the club, as both stand down from their U19 coaching duties at the end of the season.
There could be no more fitting way for the players to show their appreciation for their mentors’ efforts than to return to their Arderys’ Lane base with the Cup.