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‘To Do It For The Club And Community Would Mean Everything’ – Ballyclare Captain McBride

‘To Do It For The Club And Community Would Mean Everything’ – Ballyclare Captain McBride

Victorious Ballyclare captain Joel McBride is pictured with the Energia All-Ireland Men's Junior Cup after their final win over Bective Rangers ©INPHO/Ben Brady

It has been a special year of firsts for Ballyclare RFC. Back in January they won their maiden Energia All-Ireland Men’s Junior Cup with a convincing 48-8 final win over Bective Rangers at Dundalk RFC.

A couple of weeks ago they clinched the Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 title for the first time, after a close race with a talented Enniskillen side.

Joel McBride is aiming to lead Ballyclare to another milestone achievement on Saturday when they do battle with Monkstown in the All-Ireland Provincial League Championship final at Navan RFC (kick-off 2pm).

The Antrim club are bidding to become the third successive Ulster team to achieve promotion to the Energia All-Ireland League, following in the footsteps of Instonians (2022) and Clogher Valley (2023), both of whom have won AIL silverware since making the jump up to Division 2C.

Captain McBride described this season as the best of his playing career to date, and he is confident that he and his team-mates can go one step further this weekend.

“There has always been other great moments in past seasons, but I think this has been the best yet, just purely on the history that this squad has created already,” he told IrishRugby.ie.

“To be a part of that, and to be captain as well, it definitely has been the most enjoyable for me. It would be a huge achievement and a huge honour if we can win on Saturday.

“It would be nice for us as players to do it for the club and the town. The community have given us great support, so to do it for them would mean everything to us.”

Ballyclare beat Kolo Kiripati’s Creggs 32-17 in Ashbourne last week to book their place in the promotion decider. They spent the last couple of seasons challenging in Ulster, behind newly-crowned Division 2B champions Instonians and Clogher Valley, who lifted the Division 2C trophy last Saturday.

Mike Orchin-McKeever’s men were put under immense pressure this season by a young up-and-coming Enniskillen outfit.They came out on the right side of a 16-14 tussle in Fermanagh on St. Patrick’s weekend, a result that ultimately decided the destination of the league crown.

McBride explained how that game was decided during the closing minutes, saying: “Enniskillen really pushed us this year, that game went right down to the wire. We needed a clutch penalty from our centre, Matthew McDowell, to get us over the line.

“It was a tough day, terrible conditions. It really could have gone either way, but we showed great character to win. We played 20 phases into the wind, with the ball, before we got that penalty to win us the game.”

He was asked if he believes the fiercely competitive nature of the league gives Ulster teams an edge in the end-of-season All-Ireland Provincial League Championship.

“It’s only a good thing to get pushed by another team in your league,” he agreed. “It means every single week matters, you can never take your foot off the gas. Bonus points and getting those four tries also become important.

“You know that your rivals might have already got all five points. It keeps everyone motivated to keep pushing on, it only brings out the best in you.”

They have talent at their disposal all across the pitch. McDowell has stood up in the big moments, from both the tee and in open field.

Out-half Alex Darrah has proven to be wise beyond his years in the number 10 jersey. In the pack, Jack Gamble always offers a ball-carrying threat, while experienced hooker Matthew Coulter is ever reliable at lineout time.

Their highly-rated head coach, Orchin-McKeever, has instilled a belief and a desire in the group to push for more success. McBride, who is in his sixth season with the club, is full of admiration for his coach.

“He’s been brilliant. He coached me in my first year of secondary school, I knew him from then. I think his ability to coach and help certain individuals as well as the team is his real strong point.

“He builds a confidence within every player. He makes them aware of things they can work on and get better at. He hasn’t just made the team better each year but he has also made individual players better.

“He makes us all more confident. He works so hard. He is dedicated to rugby, and he’s a fantastic coach,” he said of Orchin-McKeever (pictured below).

Rugby is very much in McBride’s DNA as his father Denis is a former Ulster and Ireland flanker, who won 32 caps for his country between 1988 and 1997.

Joel is eager to create his own slice of rugby history by becoming the first Ballyclare captain to lead them into the All-Ireland League, capping off what many would consider a fairytale season.

They feel like their time is now, with McBride adding: “After Covid some players decided to step away, we also got a lot of young players coming in from the school. We’ve been on a two, three-year journey, I suppose.

“This year we’ve really clicked and gelled as a team – things have gone our way. We won the All-Ireland Junior Cup for the first time which was a huge moment for the club. We won the league for the first time.

“Our last aim is to win this game on Saturday and secure our place in the All-Ireland-League for next season.”