We were at Rifle Park as Banbridge prepare for the 2014/15 season. We had a word with Head Coach Daniel Soper and club captain Jonny Graham.
If Bann want to improve on last year’s disappointing All Ireland League campaign, they’ll have to start off on the front foot. That’s something they couldn’t be accused of doing last term, losing their opening four matches.
This year’s Ulster Bank League kick off on Saturday 20 September but before that, Bann have three Ulster League games, beginning at Ards on Saturday.
Soper knows those three competitive fixtures could hold the key to starting well in the All-Ireland Ulster Bank League Division 2A.
“Confidence in any sport is such a crucial part of whether or not you’re successful,” he said.
“It’s important to do well over the next few Saturdays. Two of the games are against City of Derry and Dungannon, who we will meet in the All Ireland League so that gives those games double significance. Psycologically, if you have already beaten a team earlier in the season, it’ll help you out going into the next game.
“The guys have been training harder than I’ve seen them training in the five years I’ve been coaching the team. They’ve shown a real determination to get themselves fitter. “I think the way we started last season hurt them so they want to try and put that right now.”
On paper, Saturday’s Ulster League opener is a game Bann should be winning but Soper knows it may not be that straight forward.
“Ards have been the team that have struggled at the bottom of the league in recent seasons but they had as good a finish to last as they’ve had and they bounced up the league a bit,” he said.
“They’ll be on a high and looking to continue that going into this season. We’llc ertainly not be taking the game for granted but we don’t worry too much abnout the opposition. We’ll worry about organising ourselves and if we can get a good performance, we should win the game.”
Soper already has his eyes firmly fixed on the All ireland League curtain-raiser on Saturday 20 September, although he isn’t setting any targets for the coming campaign.
He said: “When we stepped up to 2A a couple of years ago, we weren’t sure how we were going to go. We were so scared of failing that we were on top of things and ended up third.
“Last year though, we thought it was easy the year before and went in with the attitude that it would be the same again.
“It’s not just as easy as that though and what we learned is that we should really only be looking at it one game at a time.
“In terms of the All Ireland League, we’re just thinking about Cashel in our first game and getting off to a good start. If we can do that and build up a bit of momentum, we’ll have a look at where we are at Christmas and target a place in the league.”
Despite losing their final warm-up game against Ballynahinch on Saturday, Soper is positive about the season.:
“There’s a real buzz about the guys. If we can keep this momentum up into the All ireland League, we’ll be well ready for it.
“Since Ian porter and Simon McKinstry left, other guys have stepped up and shown great leadership. That’s a really positive thing for us looking ahead.
“It was a really tough game against Ballynahinch, as we expected playing a team two leagues above us.
“We were 16-13 up with 20 minutes to play and then we ended up losing 32-16. A few things went against us and before we knew it, the game had got away from us.
“It was a fantastic day at the club to open the new pitch. There was a big crowd there for the U18s game before ours and there was a good buzz at the club all day. It was all great.”
New signing Nico Vorster has shone in pre-season and Soper has been delighted with the displays of all his new recruits, particularly the crop of former U19 stars.
“The most pleasing aspect for me is how last year’s Under 19s players have stepped up,” he said.
“It’s great to see our own boys coming up. That’s where we’d rather be as opposed to getting other players in. There’s a real satisfaction with that and they add some youthful excitement to the group as well.
“Nico Vorster is a real worker. He compliments Dale Carson. Both of them playued a simialr role as a worker in the back row. Niko has been a great addition to the squad and he’s a great guy as well. That’s a big part of what we’re after, good people who contribute on and off the pitch.
“Scott Nelson and Ryan Milligan both missed Saturday’s game with minor injuries. It’s not worth risking them at this time of year. All the news guys have settled in well.”