Following Ballyclare Rugby Club’s promotion there is plenty of pre-season buzz at The Cloughan, despite the departure of top coach, Bob Young.
During his four seasons at the helm, in addition to being regular visitors to Ravenhill, Ballyclare became perennial promotion contenders before clinching their place in Qualifying 1 in May. Young has since moved to take charge of Queen’s.
The lure of All-Ireland League rugby proved too much for the Ballymena man, and he leaves The Cloughan with best wishes from all concerned.
Chairman Peter Kirk and his committee wasted little time in finding a successor, with Chris Campbell coming in as chief coach, assisted by Darren Best.
Campbell, a former teacher at Carrick Grammar and now in Rainey Endowed, played his rugby as a centre with Rainey in the AIL. He will take charge of the back division.
Best, a former Ulster Schools and Ballymena lock forward, had to retire early because of a back injury, but has been coaching the Ballyclare Under-19s for the past couple of seasons. He now switches to the senior side, and will have responsibility for the forwards.
The 1st XV’s elevation to Qualifying 1 has given everyone at the club a lift, and it has been reflected in the large turnouts at training.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays upwards of 50 players are being put through their paces ahead of what promises to be a testing season at the higher level.
Four former AIL teams - Bangor, CIYMS, Instonians and Portadown - will all be planning for a return to the top grade, while Ballyclare’s immediate strategy will be consolidation.
Club PRO, Eddie Laird, feels this season will be a test of character and ability, but is hopeful the team will be strengthened by the recruitment of several new players.
The opening league fixture will be against Bangor on September 8 at Upritchard Park.