Clogher Valley head coach Stephen Bothwell admits that there is both excitement and nerves ahead of their opening All Ireland League fixture away to Ballina on Saturday.

It will be a historic day for the club as they dip their toes in senior league for the first time and Bothwell acknowledges that it has created a great buzz in the community.

“There’s excitement and a wee bit of nerves too,” said Bothwell. “The boys are looking forward to a new tournament type of thing and new opposition, that always creates a bit of buzz when there’s the unexpected.

“There’s a lot of excitement throughout the area, people are talking about it and that’s great.”

The seed for progressing to the AIL came in the shape of an exceptional group of young players who came through together at the club.

That group were key to taking Valley to the top of the Junior rugby and Bothwell knew that they would have to take the step up to senior level if they were to keep that bunch of players at the club.

“We always thought if we could keep them together and they matured from schoolboy age right up through, there would be a chance of us progressing with that, and it has happened like that.

“We knew too that if we didn’t take that step up then there was a chance that we would lose some of them as there were a lot of senior clubs interested in the boys.

“There’s the pull for players of wanting to stay with your friends and play but there’s also the pull of wanting to play senior league.

“It’s brilliant then that they’ve the chance to do the two now.

“We’re delighted to have senior league rugby in the area so the boys can have a go at senior league and do it with their friends as well. It’s the perfect scenario for everybody,” he added.

With those young players having also matured physically, it was the perfect time to take that step to the senior ranks for the club.

“There are three of them 21 next week, they’re now young men and they’re physically maturing which gives us that wee bit more bite. It’s one of the things that you always hear about senior rugby, it’s that bit more physical and we’ve seen that a bit more in the Ulster Senior League,” he said.

It is not just about the young lads, though. There is a good mix of youth and experience in the squad.

“There’s great banter with the older boys; with Kyle Cobain, Michael Treanor and those boys. They bounce off each other well,” said Bothwell.

While the players and coaches are working hard to ensure that things are right on the pitch when they kick off on Saturday, Bothwell acknowledges that there has also been a lot of unseen work away behind the scenes to facilitate the desire to make the move up in grade.

“It is alright for playing and coaches to do well but there is a lot of work that has gone in to get us ready for Saturday in terms of travelling and the money aspect of things and that is really appreciated by all the players and coaching staff. It doesn’t happen without a lot of work behind the scenes.

“Our hub will be opened shortly and we have added extra car park spaces. There is a lot of work that has gone on,” said the Clogher coach.

Back on the pitch, Bothwell will go with the players who secured the club their place in All Ireland League rugby with a few others added in.

“We have boys stepping up from schools rugby,” he said.

“We have Karl Bothwell up from the school ranks to the firsts and several boys in with the seconds, which is good.

“There’s also Daniel Maxwell who has come from Dungannon. He played senior league with them but had an injury in his back and he quit rugby for four years but it has settled and he’s come to us this year and has done well. He has good experience and is a good talker and knows what it’s all about.”

He also expects a number of injured players to slot back in over the next few weeks: “We have a couple of injuries but we have boys coming back. Daryl Liggett is back with the seconds at the minute and Eugene McKenna will be back in the next few weeks after a back injury.

“Aaron Crawford had a shoulder injury but will be back in January time and Robbie Mills did a hamstring at the start of the season. Michael Bothwell also did his shoulder but bar Aaron they should all be back in the next couple of weeks.”

Preparations for the start of the league have gone well with some fine results in the Ulster Senior League – although Bothwell won’t read too much into those.

“We had three wins with bonus points and then lost narrowly to Instonians who everybody knows are pushing on hard.

“We probably played our best rugby against Instonians but came up just short and it let us know what senior league is all about.

“It’s hard to take stuff out of it because there are teams only prepping for the senior league and have players to come back too but we can just take it at face value and look after ourselves.

“It took those three or four Ulster League games to really get us going and to get training to where we wanted it, although there’s still a bit to improve yet.

“We got good results out of it which is always good to bounce off week to week and start to improve on and hopefully we’ll be there or thereabouts for Saturday,” he said.

And he says that they will continue to focus just on themselves for Saturday’s clash in Ballina.

“We don’t know too much about Ballina but we can just look at ourselves and make sure we do our bits and pieces well and hopefully that’s enough to get us over the line.”

And in terms of the league as a whole, Bothwell hopes to be competitive within Division 2C.

“It’s a bit into the unknown but we don’t want to be just making up the numbers,” he added.

“You see a lot of teams who go up in their first year, like now there’s a good buzz about the place, so maybe if we can get off to a good start it’s an opportunity to keep that going and try and push on in this league as well,” said Bothwell.