Ballymena Rugby Club aim for All-Ireland cup glory

BALLYMENA Rugby Club’s objective at the start of the season was to end a trophy famine stretching back five years.

Now, John Andrews’ side could end the campaign with two prestigious pieces of silverware in the Eaton Park trophy cabinet if they can win their final game of the season in Dublin this Saturday.

The Braidmen take on Garryowen in the final of the prestigious Bateman Cup – a knockout competition which features the winners of the four provincial domestic cup competitions.

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Ballymena, of course, earned their place among the semi-finalists by winning the Ulster Senior Cup final in December, then produced a shock in the last four of this competition by beating All-Ireland League Division 1A side Old Belvedere.

Ballymena completed their own Division 1B campaign on Saturday with a crushing 41-6 demolition of already-relegated UCC on Saturday.

It completed a pleasing end to a rollercoaster campaign for Ballymena which tailed off in the closing weeks after back-to-back promotions and a return to Irish club rugby’s ‘top table’ had looked a possibility for most of the season.

“In terms of progress, it has been a good season,” Andrews told Times Sport.

“We set out to bring silverware to the club and we managed to do that – now we have a chance to win a second trophy.

“In terms of the All-Ireland League, a lot of people expected us to go down after coming up, so to finish fifth was a great achievement.

“Against that, however, when you look at the fact we were top of the table after the first half of the season, we’re probably a bit disappointed not to have been closer to the promotion places.

“We got off to a bad start after the new year when we lost our first two games but we then came back with a run of four wins – including the semi-final of this cup – but five league defeats in a row ultimately put paid to our chances.”

While reaching this cup final is another step on the ladder in Andrews’ continuing work in progress at Eaton Park, for some of the club’s players, Saturday’s final will be a last hurrah.

Winger Ali Frazer, having completed his studies, is heading to live in Canada, where he has family.

“Ali has been a real revelation for us this season – he has been in a great run of forms and has scored a number of tries recently,” said Andrews.

Club captain Darrell O’Kane is understood to be contemplating retirement, while Andy Kerr, who has missed a chunk of this season, is off to pastures new as he continues his studies.”

Andrews recently put final opponents Garryowen under the microscope and accepts his side have a tough task ahead of them.

“I watched Garryowen against Cork Con a couple of weeks ago and they are a big, physical side, although they maybe don’t possess the same flair behind the scrum as some of the other Division 1A sides.”

Saturday’s match, which will be played at newly crowned AIL champions St Mary’s Templeville Road ground, will also be televised live on RTE, with a 12.35pm kick-off.

“The television aspect has given the match even more profile and our players are champing at the bit to be involved in a game like this,” added Andrews.

The Braidmen’s match will form the first leg of a memorable double-header for many Ballymena fans in the Irish capital, with many attending Ulster’s crunch Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh at the Aviva stadium later that evening.