Ballymena, Ballynahinch, Rainey and Armagh put First Trust Ulster Senior Cup semi-finals on backburner

Jonathan Morton representing Armagh RFC and Paul Pritchard representing Rainey Old Boys
Jonathan Morton representing Armagh RFC and Paul Pritchard representing Rainey Old Boys

Rainey Old Boys will meet First Trust Ulster Senior Cup holders, City of Armagh in the semi-finals early next year.

And the Magherafelt club are hoping they can cause an upset and follow in the footsteps of their opposition.

Matthew Norris representing Ballymena RFC and Conal Boomer representing Ballynahinch RFC

Matthew Norris representing Ballymena RFC and Conal Boomer representing Ballynahinch RFC

Armagh lifted the Senior Cup for the first time in the club’s history last season - Rainey are still seeking their first success.

Having reached one final previously in the long history of the Senior Cup, Rainey now want to go one step further.

Captain Paul Pritchard has enjoyed Senior Cup success previously with Ballymena and Ballynahinch - and endured losses at the final stage too.

Interestingly he also won the Leinster Senior Cup when playing with Old Belvedere.

“One thing I said when I came to Rainey was I want them to win the Senior Cup,” said Pritchard.

“I’ve lifted it twice as captain when Ballymena won and I’ve won it a couple of times with Hinch and I’ve won the Leinster one with Old Belvedere two years ago.

“I said when I came to Rainey that I’d love to lift the Cup as that would be four clubs I’ve lifted the cup with.

“Yes, I love the Cup. To get out here in a final – and I’ve lost a few finals as well to be fair – but to get out here on a midweek evening or whenever it’s what you want as an amateur player.

“It’s all about getting into that changing room, getting out onto that pitch, score tries, just play on the pitch of the team we support is just great and that’s why we love the cup.”

The tie will not be played until January 5, 2019 - although with both club’s seconds due to meet in the Ulster Towns’ Cup on the same date, there may be a decision made to switch the First Trust tie to the Friday night at the Palace Grounds.

As for meeting Armagh, Pritchard said: “I was joking with the boys there and said that one thing we didn’t want was Armagh away.

“We didn’t want an away semi, we wanted a home game and I think Armagh is one of the biggest journeys you could have and they are a very good team at home.

“In fairness, I think everyone wanted a home draw but look we’ll just deal with it when it comes.

“In the meantime we’ve got blocks of All-Ireland League games to contend with so we won’t think about this for a while.”

The Division 2B club lost their opening All Ireland League game on Saturday to Barnhall, while City of Armagh will open their Division 1B campaign this weekend.

Armagh’s Johnny Morton said the Cup draw was obviously favourable at home.

“When you get a home draw at semi-final stage you want to be getting back out at Kingspan Stadium for the final.

“It was brilliant last year (reaching the final, and winning). The atmosphere was amazing on the day, there was a real buzz around the club, everyone really proud, great to see the guys lift the cup and hopefully do it again this year,” he added.

Ballymena and Ballynahinch will meet in the second semi-final at Eaton Park, a repeat of last year’s competition when Ballymena took the honours but lost 17-13 to Armagh in the final.

Ballymena’s Matthew Norris wants the club to make it to the final again and get their hands on the famous trophy after a number of years.

“We are happy enough with a home draw. You have to fancy yourself at home no matter who you get.

“Hinch will be no strangers, we know how they play, should be a good tight game and one to look forward to.

“It is a good few years (since the club won it). Came close last year in the final and a few other final loses previously, one of those against Hinch.

“It would be good to come and put one right and get hands on the cup again.”

Ballynahinch had dominated the competition in recent years and are no strangers to the big stage.

Ballynahinch’s Conall Bloomer admitted an away match in Ballymena was going to be very difficult.

“But the boys will definitely be up for it as I guess we are the ones to beat (in terms of recent cup pedigree he means)

“I think we have a full nine-game All Ireland League programme and some Ulster League to come as well before the semi-final comes around.

“It will be a test for us to get a full team out and have fit bodies from such a block of games before the semi-final.

“It will a hugely physical game and that’s what I’d expect up there.

“They’ll run hard and hit hard but hopefully we can do the same.”

Boomer, who formerly played with Belfast Harlequins and Ballymena has never been on a Cup winning side.

“I haven’t won a cup and I came in after Hinch’s run of cup wins and I haven’t played at the Kingspan since I was in the Ulster Academy and I played an ‘A’ game against Canada.

“It will hopefully be a good experience to get back here again if we can beat Ballymena,” added Boomer.