Ballyclare Rugby Football Club will take on Clogher Valley at Ravenhill in the showpiece tie on Saturday, January 29.
The south Antrim side made it down to the last two thanks to wins over Gorey RFC, Enniskillen and Connemara RFC.
Detailing how much reaching the final means to the club and its supporters, Public Relations Officer for the Doagh Road-based outfit, David Campbell said: “When the lockdown was announced in March 2020, Ballyclare were top of their league, with only a couple of games remaining in the regular season. Potentially ahead, there was the exciting prospect of competing in the All Ireland Round Robin play-offs to gain entry to the All Ireland League. Unfortunately, the pandemic brought all rugby in Ireland to an end, and we never got the chance of pitting ourselves against the other Provinces league winners. Ballyclare was also due to play in a third consecutive Towns Cup final that season but never got the opportunity. With only a couple of competitive games played over the next 14 months due to the pandemic, it’s great to have rugby again and be in contention for silverware.
“The club enjoys superb support, both home and away. I know the team appreciate the boost the dedicated support from the sidelines gives them, whether playing at The Cloughan, or Galway. Supporters of the team enjoy the exciting brand of rugby that they play, and with the final being played at Kingspan Stadium it’s hoped that large numbers will turn out from the club and community to cheer them on.”
Explaining how success in the cup would rank in the club’s all-time achievements, Club historian Ed Laird stated: “The club has played in All-Ireland competitions before, a competition hosted by Arklow RFC saw winners of the Provincial Towns Cup play of for a trophy.
“Ballyclare played in it three times in the late 70s and early 80s winning in 1977 and 1978. The club’s second XV took the club to Ravenhill in three consecutive seasons, winning the Crawford Cup 1999-2001.
“The second XV played in an All-Ireland Millennium Cup, now defunct, but unfortunately never made the final.
“The club’s first XV squad over the past three or four seasons is amongst the best the club has ever produced. I look forward to the final with the team being led by talisman captain Joel McBride.
“They will face tough opposition on the day in Clogher Valley, but if they win, it will certainly rank as one of the club’s best achievements.”
Next week’s clash with the Fivemiletown side will be the first time playing at the Kingspan for a number of Ballyclare’s players.
Head Coach, Mike Orchin-McKeever said: “With the recent successes in the Towns Cup, many of the squad have played at the Kingspan before. However, for the Under-21 contingent in the team this will be their first time playing in a competitive game at headquarters.
“I will be telling them to play the match, not the occasion, concentrate on the job in hand and how winning the All-Ireland Junior Cup at the Kingspan would give the whole squad happy memories in years to come.”
Encouraging the club’s fanbase to be “loud and proud”, Mike added: “The squad really appreciate the support they receive week in week out.
“Playing in the final at the Kingspan should be a great occasion for the club and the wider community.
“Ballyclare is a community club and has enjoyed great occasions for the entire community before, such as hosting the Wooden Spoon festival in 2019.
“The annual mini rugby festival is always a highlight of the rugby calendar. I look forward to seeing all members of the club from minis and age grade players to alickadoos being at the Kingspan on January 29 to enjoy the game.
“I would ask all supporters, be loud, be proud, respect the opposition and match officials and enjoy the amateur game being played at a professional venue.”
The team has not suffered any serious injuries this season; however, stalwart of the side, versatile forward Ryan Tweed picked up a knee injury recently, but should be able to make the squad for the final.
Back, Josh Cowan has been out for most of the season with a hip condition, but is looking forward to getting back to rugby in February.
Tickets for the final need to be purchased ahead of the tie. They can be bought here