Local feel to new look Coleraine side as they focus on promotion

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Things are hotting up at Coleraine Rugby Club as the players get ready for the new season.

Training has been revamped during the off-season, a new coaching team installed and a lot of new faces have come back to the senior squad.

The season ahead brings the challenges of a new league for the ‘Cookstown’ sponsored First XV and the first step will be a friendly against newly promoted Q1 side Ballyclare.

The Firsts have been relegated to Junior Qualifying 2 and all eyes will be on the side as they battle to establish themselves at the top end of the league and aspire to promotion back to Qualifying 1. There are no illusions about the task ahead – a tough battle in every game in a section full of hard competitive teams.

Speaking after training last week, Norman Blair, coaching coordinator at Coleraine, gave an overview of preparations for the new season.

“Norman said: “Things are going well in training for the new season. There is a really positive spirit in the squad and we are looking forward to getting into action.

“We have a new set up and it centres on Coleraine coaches and Coleraine players, all there because they want to play for Coleraine and for no other reason.

“In the off-season the players all bought into the idea and that is showing in the turn-out at training. They are all working hard but, more than that, they are determined to enjoy their rugby and play the game for each other.

“Several Coleraine guys have come back to the club from senior sides – people like Stephen Dickey, Adam Park, Niall Irwin and Stephen Jefferson. We also have the core of last season’s players still available.That brings great experience to the squad and it also spurs younger players on.

“They have been stepping up to the plate and fighting for their place in the teams. That in turn is giving more depth to the squad in terms of ability and skill.”

The new league will bring new challenges.

Norman continued: “We have been relegated for the first time in many decades but the players have to recognise that we are now in one of the toughest leagues in the province.

“Last year we lost out in a game against Ballyclare and they went on to be promoted to Qualifying 1. We know that Omagh and other clubs are very strong and that relegation doesn’t mean a drop in standard, in fact it might make for even harder matches. The result is that we have to start the season with everyone performing well.”

The coaching set up, with John Boyd and Norman Blair looking after the forwards and DD Andrews looking after the backs, is a sign of the commitment the club has given to rebuilding the rugby section’s fortunes.

Norman said: “We have a strong coaching set up reinforced by DD Andrews as player coach and that gives continuity between training and on pitch direction.

“The players have respect for DD and our captain Stephen Dickey, and with other players bringing experience from senior rugby, we have the potential to bring great performances to our games.

“Relegation has been a wake-up call and we have looked closely at our structures in rugby - the coaches and players and the overall set up. There has been a lot of support across the club and they are behind our plans.

“First up is a friendly fixture away to Ballyclare at the weekend. That will give us the chance to see players in action and a chance for players to make their challenge for the starting line-up.”

Support is a vital ingredient of the new season’s campaign.

“Now we are looking forward to getting the season started. We want to establish ourselves at the top end of the league this season.

“Our main sponsor, ‘Cookstown’, and all our other sponsors are getting behind us and supporting our efforts. Our thanks go to them all and we appreciate the support. “Hopefully there will be the same great touchline support for the Firsts and all the teams as we go through the season. Friends, family and club members giving their support is every bit as important as players on the pitch.

“The bottom line is that we have Coleraine coaches and players, all playing for the Coleraine shirt and all enjoying playing the game. That is a great platform for the squad to work from and something that has the potential to bring great results.”Ready