Ballyclare Rugby Club coach Mike McKeever has moved swiftly to bolster his options for next season by bringing in a trio of new faces.
The next campaign may be months away but the Cloughan outfit is already looking to the future with the arrival of Grant Bartley, Ryan McIlwaine and Matthew Coulter. The White Hares have also secured significant off-field support in Ulster prop Ricky Lutton, who McKeever says will have a ‘casual role’ at the club.
Bartley captained Ballyclare High School in the 2012 Schools’ Cup final, while scrum-half McIlwaine skippered the Rashee Road school’s First XV last term. Forward Coulter played youth rugby at U18 level and McKeever describes him as ‘a very talented front row player’.
Ballyclare finished fourth in Kukri Qualifying 1 campaign just gone, and with a further recruitment drive on the cards McKeever is targeting an improved return next term.
“It’s good to welcome Grant to The Cloughan. He is not only an excellent and experienced player but also a natural leader. He has captained teams previously and is a really good guy, which is what we want,” McKeever said.
“I think Ryan and Matthew will challenge the senior squad next season, they both have great rugby attitude which is another trait we wish to continue to promote next season.
“Of course new signings mean competition for places but that also strengthens the club. To compete at the top end you must have a strong squad. To compete and win competitions, it is the strength of your entire senior squad, not just your one to 15 and ultimately we want to be strong throughout the club.”
He added: “I have also acquired the assistance of Ricky Lutton to come on board to assist occasionally with areas of play and to offer his professional experience. He will help front row forwards with positional-specific work and to assist the hard work Darren Best currently does with the pack to strengthen the set-piece in attack and defence.”