Clifford Craig determined to avoid another relegation battle with Balmoral

Bangor's Gary Clarke
Bangor's Gary Clarke

Having escaped relegation from the NIBA’s Division One on the final day of the season, Balmoral are determined to avoid similar trauma at the end of the current campaign.

Unbelievably, the Belfast team were crowned champions in 2012, but things have spiraled downwards since that success, their first since 1988.

However, they enjoyed a positive start to the new term last week by claiming seven points from their home outing against Lisnagarvey, a performance that possibly suggested there are better days up ahead for Balmoral.

“It’s good to get early points on the board,” said Balmoral’s former international Clifford Craig.

“Our big problem last year was we lost too many games by single shot margins.

“We were not playing all that badly, but teams were edging over the line. It meant we were relying on rink scores.

“That takes its toll over the course of the season. Ultimately, we struggled. And, when the pressure was on over the last four or five weeks, it made it even more difficult to dig out a victory.

“Fortunately for us, there were a few other clubs in the same boat.”

Carrickfergus, Castle and Lurgan duly made the drop. Craig added: “We managed to escape by the skin of our teeth, but we can’t afford to go through that again.

“They say the pressure is really on when you are in the running for the title, but it is nothing compared to the pressure at the bottom of the table. I’ve experienced both.”

Off the green, Balmoral have agreed a long term lease from the Belfast City Council for their Belvoir Drive base, which will secure the club’s future.

Craig added: “We will also be employing a full time green keeper, which should vastly improve the playing surface. Floodlights are also in the pipeline.

“But we are still on the hunt for new members. With doubts hanging over the availability of Michael Bickerstaff and Davy Ashwood, the team is based along the same lines of last year."

Balmoral travel to Dromore on Saturday, looking to follow up last week’s win with another solid display.

“Dromore came up from Division Two this season,” added Craig.

“They had a tough start against league champions Whitehead, so they’ll be keen to get a win under their belts, especially on their own green.

“But we must look after our own affairs. We’ll be going there to win it.

“We've learned a lesson from last year. You have to work for anything you get.

“We got off to a good start, against Lisnagarvey, it’s important to keep the momentum going.