Banbridge Thirds will take to the Kingspan Stadium pitch as underdogs in today (Easter Tuesday)’s final of the Crawford Cup.
But that’s not causing coaches Andy Craig and Stuart Wickie any sleepless nights.
“We know Ballynahinch Thirds are a very strong outfit,” commented Craig, “but our team has improved with every game in the cup run and we’re confident of putting on a good performance.
“We have strength and experience throughout the squad with a sprinkling of youth to give a tidy balance. Our pack is capable of winning enough ball to test the ‘Hinch defence. And we showed our defensive qualities in our last game when Ballymoney put us under a lot of pressure in the second half.”
Certainly Bann will not be lacking experience with two of the side having earned their centurion blazers for over 100 appearances in the All-Ireland League. Flanker Andy Brown and scum-half Jeff Dodds have been influential throughout the side’s cup run and they will have important roles to play in the big game at Ulster Rugby HQ.
This will be Bann’s third appearance in the Crawford Cup final, but in the ’95 and ’98 games, they were represented by the Club’s Second XV as Bann was still a junior club.
Dodds was in both those winning sides and he will be hoping to make it a hat-trick after reviving his rugby career this season.
Unfortunately, he will not have his usual half-back partner outside him on Tuesday. Alan Thompson has impressed since moving into the out-half slot earlier this season after playing most of his rugby in the forwards. But he will be holidaying in South Africa when the final kicks off.
John Ferris, who was joint man-of-the-match in the semi-final playing at full back, moves up to fill the No 10 shirt, with Calum Boland reverting to full- back and Chris Berry on the wing.
Otherwise the team lines out as in the semi-final when they overcame Ballymoney Seconds 22-14. That followed wins in earlier rounds against Lisburn Seconds (15-3), Ballyclare Seconds (17-10) and Coleraine Seconds (17-0).
‘Hinch Thirds had arguably the more difficult route to the final. They got the better of their own Fourths in the first round before putting an end to the cup hopes of Bangor Seconds and Instonians Seconds and then inflicting a 10-40 defeat on City of Derry Seconds in the semi-final.
But Craig believes those results will count for nothing:
“Our lads have a belief in themselves that has been building steadily over the season. We know we’re in for a battle but then so are ‘Hinch. They were surprisingly beaten in last season’s final and there’s no reason why we can’t spring another surprise.”
The final begins at 2.30pm.
Who are the players looking to bring the Crawford Cup back to Banbridge?
15 Calum Boland
Cool head and great tactical awareness. Game reader
14 Shane Honeyford
Man and ball tackler and comfortable at scrum half
13 Adam Stirling
Clinical finisher, scoring four tries in one game
12 Geoff Thompson
The talker of the backs. Motivator and backs up with his performances
11 Chris Berry
Dancing feet on the wing (Shane Williams)
10 John Ferris
Big left boot that can turn defence into attack. Strong runner
9 Jeff Dodds
Old man of the team. Knows every trick in the book. Goal kicker of the side
8 Andrew Davidson
Hard running No 8 who makes a lot of turnovers
7 Andy Brown
No nonsense rugby player. Experience to burn
6 Alex Megaw
A young player impressing with his tackling. Great support play. Never far from the ball
5 Stuart Marshall
Big man who plays with a smile on his face. But beware don’t let him fool you
4 Ross Semple (c)
Captain who leads from the front. Works hard at breakdown. Good ball carrier
3 Barney McKevitt
Prop that loves ball in hand with space to run in.
2 Gareth Briggs
Vice-captain and hard working hooker. Plays with heart on his sleeve
1 Neil Walker
Mobile forward. Great in set pieces. Can play like a fourth back row
16 Richard McElroy
Loves to get the ball in hand and run. Unaware of the side step
17 Neil Cochrane
Player who can join a game and get straight into the pace of it. Great worker at the breakdown.
18 William Baird
Tackles and tackles. Never fades away from defence. Equally good with ball in hand.