Banbridge Rugby Club Head Coach Daniel Soper has challenged his side to win all nine of their remaining All-Ireland League fixtures.
While conceding that it would be a “big ask” for any team, Soper knows his side have little to lose after their slow start to the campaign and he says they’ll “give it a rattle.”
Bann had a great AIL Division 2A campaign last season, coming up just one place short of promotion, finishing behind Terenure College and Corinthians. Soper says it was a run of defeats against the top duo and City of Derry at the beginning of 2013 that cost them a route out of the third tier of Irish rugby.
“Going into the year, we were coming off the back of a really good start but we began 2013 pretty poorly,” he said.
“We lost our first three games and that really put a big dent in our chances of winning Division Two and getting promotion. The highlight was really the way we pulled the season back during March and April. Our style really developed and the type of rugby we were playing was a real positive for the club.
“We put in some really good performances and missed out on promotion by just one place. That was disappointing but the two teams who finished above us were better than us and deserved to go up.”
Bann won four of their last five AIL games to finish the season on a high. That run, and the impressive All Ireland campaign in general, was largely down to one history-making man.
“Ian Porter was our best player last year and was probably the best player in the league,” Soper told the ‘LEADER.’
“He’s been with Ulster for most of this season. It’s the first time in the club’s history that a current playing member is playing for Ulster. We’ve had the likes of Rory Best, Simon Best and Tyrone Howe, obviously, but they weren’t actually playing for the club at the same time as they were for Ulster.
“It’s fantastic for the club and it’s brilliant for Ian that he’s getting his chance there. We’re delighted for him. He’s been injured for the past few weeks and has probably missed a few chances to play.
“Andy Morrison’s been another key player for us as well.”
That promising campaign set the club up, they had hoped, for a real run at promotion this season.
“We knew that we were going in as the third placed team and logically we were the team that everyone was looking at. We wanted to do as well as last year and if the chance was there to push for promotion, to really go for it,” said Soper.
However, those aspirations were dealt a huge blow early in the season as they were still waiting for a victory four games into the campaign.
Soper said: “The way we started in the All-Ireland League was really disappointing. We lost our first four games and most of those were very, very tight. Last year, those were the games that we would have edged and that got our momentum up to fire us on for the season. This year, they went the other way. We were probably a little complacent and that’s cost us.”
However, not too disheartened, the Head Coach hasn’t totally abandoned his hopes of being in Division 1B come the start of next season. With a good finish, it’s not totally out of the question just yet, he says:
“There are still nine games to go and if we can win all of them, we would finish with one more win than last season. Obviously, that’s a big ask of ourselves but we’ll give it a rattle and take each game as it comes.
“We’re still targetting a top five finish, really. We’re 13th at the minute which is a good bit down the table so to get top five at this setage would be good. We believe we’re capable of getting a run of wins. Getting right up to the top two to get promotion would be a big ask but we’ll give it a go.”
Callum Boardman made his first appearance for the first XV last week and Soper has tipped a former Ulster Youths player to be the next to make the breakthrough.
He said: “The U19s are going pretty well and a number of them will feature in senior rugby over the next 12 months. Macauley Little is one to look out for.
“We have other young players in the squad already, like Callum, who is in his first year out of school and is making good progress.”
Banbridge’s next game is away to Belfast Harlequins on Saturday 28th December in the Ulster League.