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The Men from the Burgh Do!

Treading somewhat warily were the Helensburgh men on Friday night as they made their way to Ravenhill via Mount Merrion through a chocful of protesters almost outnumbered by policemen in armoured jackets, land rovers and flashing blue lights.

It’s all too easy to forget we are used to seeing armoured police vehicles and policemen in flak jackets. Visitors are not and combined with some sensationalist media reporting across the pond things can be a little scary despite the local sherpa’s reassurance.

My reassurances seemed to work as did Big Hairy Monster’s earlier in the week when it seemed some of the sturdy Glaswegians were wavering in the face of media coverage which made Belfast look like the battleground it used to be.

Common sense prevailed and the Helensburgh veterans turned up at Malone RFC, right on time and proceeded to imbibe Guinness like there would be no tomorrow, prior to their prolonged stagger to the hallowed gates of Mount Merrion.

I counted them all out of Malone and counted them all in to Ravenhill. What happened thereafter I’m not too sure. I believe they enjoyed themselves over the course of their weekend although by Sunday morning when I texted inviting them out to coffee and a cultural tour I received a rather sleepy reply.

Do They Know its Ulstertime At All?

As a country we are stationed in no mans land ‘twixt  the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland. As a rugby entity Ulster occupy 6 counties from Northern Ireland and 3 in the South.

The southern media tend to view Ulster as ‘up North’ even though one third of its component parts resides in the South, whilst the GB press see us as being part of Ireland.

The result is we experience a media twilight condition whereby no-one outside of our country’s borders really focuses on our professional rugby team.

It is puzzling to note that whilst some Southern pundits do have praise for Ulster’s progress and the merits of their players, there is many a carp twixt complimentary statement and comment.

Munster’s progress or lack of it is well documented with the pundits asking has the Penney dropped with the players or will Penney be dropped.

Leinster are recovering on the injury front, their casualty list being well chronicled. Meanwhile their coach is looking for miracles, a phenomenon once thought to be the sole preserve of Thomond Park and Munster.

Ulster’s casualty list remains a worry to all Ulster supporters but you would never know it if you read the Irish press which is obsessed by the return of Rob Kearney, the life of Brian and Riverdance Fitzgerald’s dancing feet.

Recently Ulster were castigated in the Irish independent for sending a weakened team to Thomond Park as if this was some new phenomenon straight out of Area 51.

The practice has been operated by Munster and Leinster for many years without a murmur of dissent from press pundits. The article by Tony Ward was repeated in the Belfast Telegraph, a local paper and a subsidiary of the Independent group of Newspapers I think I’m right in saying.

Who will represent Ulster’s interest in the media beyond these shores, not our local papers I suggest as they have a limited and local readership.

On a personal note I’m not entirely unhappy that the pundits to the south are not over extending themselves in penning plaudits though I do get irked when Ulster’s on field success is qualified.

Ultimately I don’t care if Ulster’s progress is not hailed as an Irish miracle and I suspect the average Ulster fan is happy to see its team in a good place after the lean years of travails, coach turnover and player unrest, not to mention administrative blunders.

Still an unqualified acknowledgement might be useful from Tony Ward and company.

Wouldn’t Be Ulster If There Weren’t Intrigue

Success for Ulster brings with it the dreaded spectre of the small time Ulsterman assuming he is the genius in waiting to take the reins of power.

The preserve of the Ulster committee man is to guard his position jealously and to ensure his preserve is the sole guardian of change and progress. One hears rumours of disgruntlement at the performance of UR’s top men.

Let’s hope there is not more backroom unrest with the amateurs eyeing the professional’s position. It is not in Ulster’s interest to have this kind of background tremors at the moment as they tread warily towards the ultimate goal of a double in the league and cup.

Ravenhill, You’re a Livin’ Hell For Me

Late last Saturday night beneath a smoke stained gaslight in the deeper recesses of a Belfast bar, a man dressed in black from head to toe sat staring at his half drunk pint of Guinness.

Around him several men sat expectant, solemnly contemplating the man in black’s sombre features.

Finally the man stirred from his reverie and began to sing in a deep smoke stained voice.

Ravenhill, you’ve been livin’ hell for me,
You’ve hosted me since nineteen, ninety three
The games have come and gone and I’ve seen them die,
I long ago stopped askin’ why.

Ravenhill I hate every inch of you,
You’ve cut me and have scarred me thru’ and thru.
And I walk out a wiser, weaker man,
Mr. Fan, why can’t you understand.

With a brougish Scotch, “goodnight”, he stood up, tipped his big hat and disappeared seamlessly into the darkness, big shoulders swaying, hands firmly stuck into the pockets.

SCOOP?

In true rapacious, journalistic fashion I cornered the Original Kimble, in the URSC tent on Friday night and demanded a scoop from him. The supporters club chairman looked less than enamoured with my beeline to his business.

“ Is the rumoured split in the second barrier crew true ?” I queried.

“Yes”, he stated vacantly, “I don’t like Cap’n Grumpy’s singing”. At that I closed my notebook and skipped off into the damp Ravenhill night delighted to have achieved my scoop.

The Editor of the FRU will surely be pleased at my world exclusive!

What? No!

Pedalaire! Pedalaire!

Saturday morning, I found myself on the way to Bangor, having sat through a full half recording of the Ulster game whilst periodically nodding off to sleep the night before.

Having promised I would go on the regular Saturday morning cycle with the North Down CC veterans I found myself ploughing my way along a darkened peninsula coast towards Portaferry just shortly after nine o’ clock.

Pedalling into a strong headwind meant taking a turn on the front of our little peleton of 12 riders and this strength sapping endeavour continued for 30 miles to the cafe stop in Portaferry. The return leg up the muck roads of the peninsula were a nightmare of punctures and steadily decreasing stamina as the previous evening’s revelry caught up with me.

Thankfully I made it back to Groomsport but one will have to tailor ones lifestyle to a more sedate pace on a Friday night in order not to suffer on Saturday morning.

Thankfully there are no more matches for awhile. Pedalaire! Pedalaire!

#SUFTUM