The 90's and AIL Rugby

Banbridge RFC 1990s team picture

Banbridge RFC 1990s

Success bred more success in the 90’s with another Towns’ Cup victory in 1993, Ian Wray lifting the trophy after victory over Ballyclare.

But by the mid-90’s thoughts were focussed on the All-Ireland League which was opening its ranks to successful Qualifying Clubs. Bann were at this stage showing their league pedigree and three successive Qualifying League Championships from 1992-95 suggested they would be among the front runners the following season when the top Club from each province would be admitted to the AIL.

However Bann had to watch enviously as first Ballynahinch in 1996 and then Omagh in 1997 went up ahead of them. Bann were not to be denied however and after round robin wins over the other provincial qualifying champions Naas, Monivea and Midleton, they earned their place in Division Four of the AIL for the 1998-99 season.

Two significant developments had taken place which gave the Club the confidence that they could not only survive in the AIL but also go on to make their mark.

Although the Club had been running mini rugby since the mid-70’s there were no youth teams to provide the link from 12 year-olds to adult rugby. This was identified as a weakness in the Club structure and in 1993 a youth section was created to promote rugby at U-14, U-16 and U-18 levels.

The youth section was quick to make its mark with the U-16’s picking up the provincial cup in 1994 after defeating Malone in the Ravenhill final. The following season the U-18’s beat Dundalk in the final of the Coca-Cola Floodlit competition organised by Armagh RFC and the U-14’s picked up the Don Robinson Cup in Potadown’s Floodlit competition. Two seasons later the same squad was successful in the U-16 competition at Lisburn RFC and made the semi-final of the International Festival of Rugby at Murrayfield.

Secondly the Club had, in the mid-90’s, undertaken a major ground improvement programme to provide three first-class pitches, one floodlit, a floodlit training area and a Clubhouse extension at a total cost of £300,000.

With the playing and coaching structure in place and facilities to match any Club in the country, Banbridge moved confidently into the senior ranks in the ‘98-’99 season, some 72 years after those first tentative rugby steps had been taken in the town.