Ballymena Rugby Club begins search for new head coach

BALLYMENA Rugby Club has begun the task of identifying a new head coach.

Ballymena Rugby Club.
Ballymena Rugby Club.

The Eaton Park side parted company with John Andrews at the end of last month after a disappointing sequence of results which has left the club battling against relegation to Division 2A of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League.

Andrews had been in charge for almost four years and after being released from his contract, his assistant Andy Graham was put in charge of team affairs until the end of this season.

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However, Graham, a player with a long association with the Broughshane Road club, has already intimated he would not want to be considered for the role on a permanent basis.

Club sources have indicated that while it may be “some time” before an appointment is made, the club has already begun the task of identifying potential recruits.

“We have to be pro-active in this scenario,” one club source told Times Sport.

“We will have to have someone in place, if not before the end of the current campaign then as quickly as possible after the season finishes in order to give the new man as much time as possible to recruit the players he wants – that’s not something you can do in a couple of weeks before the new season begins,” the source added.

While the Braidmen’s fortunes have dipped on the pitch – the first of their back-to-back First Trust Ulster Senior Cup wins in 2011 was the club’s first silverware in more than five years – the Ballymena ‘brand’ still remains strong in Ulster rugby circles and there is no doubt the Eaton Park post will attract some top quality applications.

However, it seems likely that the new incumbent will be based in Northern Ireland, with the financial situation dictating that the job will not be a full-time position as it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s when a number of high-profile southern hemisphere coaches were in charge.

Ballymena will also have to address the situation of recruitment of top players from the Ulster schools scene – a scenario in which John Andrews was particularly well-placed given his job at Ballymena Academy, from where he brought players of the calibre of Ireland new boy Luke Marshall and Ulster player Ricky Andrew to Eaton Park.

Whoever does take over will face the prospect of reigniting Ballymena’s fortunes from within the third tier of Irish club rugby if the Braidmen cannot engineer a ‘Great Escape’ after a dismal sequence of just one win and a draw from 13 All-Ireland League outings this term.

The remainder of March is likely to tell a tale in that respect, with Ballymena facing crunch clashes against Dungannon and Bruff – the two sides competing with the Braidmen to avoid the drop – before the end of this month.

The first of them comes this Saturday when Ballymena travel to Stevenson Park for a match which surpasses even the normal level of intensity of a Dungannon v Ballymena clash, given the sides’ current predicaments.

Ballymena will face a Dungannon side still smarting from an astonishing 84-15 defeat at UCD in their last outing, while Ballymena will be anxious to improve upon a dull 9-9 draw when the sides locked horns at Eaton Park in January.