In case you haven’t the heart/willpower to read any further, I will take this opportunity to wish all my readers, (I think that’s about 3*) a very Happy New Year’s Eve and an outstanding, for the Ulstermen, 2013.
There are many idiosyncrasies in 2012 I could pontificate about, such as the reputed split in the second barrier crew, Steven Ferris’s robustness, Craig Gilroy’s footwork, Simon Zebo’s handwork when he scores or even how many restaurants Glynn Commando has visited since January.
Some of these are extremely trivial, others are important to the Ulster support and some are personal. All pale into insignificance when the death of Nevin Spence, his brother and his father are remembered.
There is little more to say, that hasn’t been said except many will recall the news with extreme sadness and compassion for all those enveloped by the sheer scale and manner of it.
Nevin’s name and personality is remembered by the Ulster squad in the shape of NS initials on the shirt. Perhaps the team is remembering him in other ways with performances on the field that are a cut above last seasons.
Don’t have Mystic Meg or even Keg qualities so I will skirt the predictions for the second half of the season.
Suffice to say it is important that momentum, how often do you hear that in a sporting sense, is maintained into the New Year.
Quite apart from hoping the second barrier crew re-unite, Steven Ferris develops bionic status, Craig Gilroy continues to dazzle with both feet, Zebo’s handiwork is confined to scoring tries and GC continues to eat out, my desires for 2013 in a rugby sense are as follows:
(1) Ulster win their last two Heineken matches thereby a potential home quarter final.
(2) Assuming (1) comes true, will Ravenhell’s capacity will have increased suitably? Will the Aquinas/Memorial end stands/promenade be complete? If they are, I’ll take my hat off to the project sponsor fellow who was brought in to manage the project.
This is a tighter build than a Changing Rooms project. In fairness the contractor’s don’t have a fellow with floppy shirt sleeves and a bouffant hair style to annoy them but the stands and prom will have a virgin feel to them.
(3) We continue momentum in the Rabo Pro12, stage a home quarter final in the knockouts and have to use those virgin promenades and stands again.
(4) A personal wish of mine is that Andrew Trimble regains his Ireland place. I do believe he’s international quality, it’s just he sometimes fails to bring inter pro form to the biggest stage. Something happens twixt Ravenhell and the Aviva, that not even the normally gregarious Andy can explain.
He deserves it if only for his wonky sense of humour. Anyone who can see a likeness between Isaac Boss and Bobby Sands has perception beyond the less ordinary.
(5) Can Craig Gilroy, someone Andy T (jokingly) wished would break his leg, maintain his metoric rise in the international stakes. After all if you arrive on the scene as a meteorite it’s a hard act to follow up. At Ulster he was finding it hard just to get on the team until someone else ‘broke’ their leg.
(6) Can Niall ‘steady’ O’Connor rise above the ordinary sometime in 2013. Niall hails from Limavady Grammar, a school whose pupils used to talk up its Schools Cup chances to such a degree that one often confused them with the great Canterbury teams of the noughties.
Reality, removed from the cyber network, is altogether a tougher animal and like Niall, Limavady have consistently failed to live up to the hype.
One lives in hope where Niall is concerned but the signs aka last Saturday’s game are not promising. Switching to scrum half is definitely not an option for him.
This is a make or break season one feels. More break than make at the moment unfortunately.
These are just some of the aspirations of more than a few Ulster fans.
As the Hollies sang: ‘The road is long and may be a winding one.’
Indeed it is.
A Highlight, A Lowlight and Toolight
Highlights and lowlights of 2013 included a trip to Clermont courtesy of Messers Campbell, Dubois and Baker.
Left Ballygowan on Friday morning at 3.30a.m. and returned at 10.15p.m. Sunday night tired but happy and eternally grateful to my French based comrades.
I now know why Clermont are unbeaten at home, the noise is for one thing deafening and that was before a ball had been kicked in anger.
Ulster managed the not insubstantial feat of quieting the Clermontois fans midway through the game but ultimately lost for a variety of reasons too complex to mention here.
They had made their point in being able to compete at the highest table and away from home.
Flag Row, the Other Flag Dispute
The next away trip was to the Aviva and the ‘home’ semi final of the Heineken. The game was far more keenly contested than expected, as was the flag row that erupted in the row below me.
Someone waved his Northern Ireland fleg a little too enthusiastically for the bearded gentleman in front of me. Both lads squared up to each other and the bearded one’s missus began crying.
There is nothing like a blubbering woman to kill a flag dispute. Cue handshakes all round and peace and happiness for the next 20 minutes. Oh and by the way there was a match going on.
Prior to this game and following the Thomond quarter final Ulster went to Connacht still in with a chance of a play off place in the league. Regrettably they sent too weak a team and duly lost.
The Heineken final was a step too far for Ulster and they duly lost that as well although the season was deemed satisfactory. Looking back to the game in Connaught, with a couple of additions in the backs we might have been in contention at the play offs.
It is perhaps one of the reasons I was disappointed with McLoughlin’s management.
Munster fans expressed their sorrow/outrage that Ulster failed to send a first team down to Thomond for the expected spanking and revenge following their smash and grab raid in the Heineken quarter final last season.
Sadly for MF fans, Ulster refused to play ball and returned with a sort of tactical victory in having blooded a number of young players without ever succumbing to humiliation.
Hubris personified in the southern media as the Indepent.ie descried Ulster’s tactic of sending a 2nd/3rd team. Conveniently ignoring all those times Munster sent their seconds and occasionally their 3rd team to Ravenhill.
The cold dish called revenge will have to wait.
One senses the southern media’s less than enthusiastic commitment to Ulster’s progress this season. Rarely is it marked with an A+ and usually it comes with a qualification.
Doubtless there’ll be more of the same in 2013 but Ulster can confound the critics by producing on the pitch. Let’s hope we continue were we left off in 2012, top of the Heieneken group and top of the Rabo Pro 12.
Happy SUFTUM Year!