Enniskillen Director of Rugby Alastair Keys has declared himself happy with their pre-season preparations, as they get ready for their first league game of the new season on Saturday in Carrickfergus.

They completed their pre-league fixtures with a 47-12 victory over Malone Seconds in the Junior Cup last weekend, but the new coach is aware that the challenges will only get tougher as the Championship One season kicks off.

“We have been very pleased,” he admitted.

“The games have gone well, and we have won them all, but some of our league matches are going to be tougher so you can’t read too much into that.

“There are still a lot of elements where we are looking for improvements.

“It would be a bit harsh to say we weren’t totally happy with Saturday’s game when we scored seven tries, but you watch Ireland against Samoa and you realise the weather conditions did impact it. We had rain and wind and it made it pretty difficult.

“We watched the video back and it was pretty decent, although I wasn’t totally satisfied, but the game the previous week down in Dublin had been really good and was played in nice conditions which gave us an opportunity to play good rugby.”

Pre-season training has involved a large squad all working together, and Keys believes this integrated approach will pay dividends as the club look to move players between the first and second string as the season goes on.

“There have been good numbers up at training and we have been working on trying to blend the first and second squads to try to broaden the base of who is available for the first XV. I think that has worked reasonably well so far,” he said.

“We have a lot of guys coming back from long-term injuries, ACLs, shoulder operations and things so we are still waiting on some of those guys to come back, and we have picked up a few injuries in these games, not least James Ferguson on Saturday who pulled a hamstring at the end of the game, so we are not playing with a full deck at the moment.

“That is going to be challenging but that is where the importance of broadening that base is.”

The club are also making plans to maximise their training opportunities despite many of the squad departing for university.

“We are going to try to facilitate something for them up in Belfast,” explained Alastair. “Connor Keys is a backs’ coach, and he is part time up in Belfast, so hopefully he will get something organised up there.

“We would have potentially a dozen or so, which is nearly half the squad. They will come down one day per week but it’s not really feasible for them to come down twice a week – especially some of the guys that are working.”

The fixture list has pitched Enniskillen against Carrickfergus in the season opener, followed by City of Derry at Mullaghmeen and then a trip to play Cooke, and Keys acknowledges that it is going to be a testing start for his team.

“Anyone can beat anyone else on the day so you cannot underestimate any of them,” he admitted.

“It is the old cliché of one game at a time. Carrick is a really tough place to go.

“In my recollection, we have won sometimes and we have lost sometimes, so I expect it will be a pretty even contest. They are usually a big strong team and a pretty physical team.

“We will be looking at whatever is coming up on Saturday and we won’t look too far beyond that, but City of Derry are one of the top teams and a pretty big club and they are going to be tough.

“Cooke were one of the main challengers and finished third or fourth after Clogher Valley and Ballyclare, so that is obviously going to be pretty tough. We obviously want to get some momentum going if we can.”