The first week of May 2018 and we are still playing domestic club rugby in Ulster and Ireland. The drama we witnessed in the concluding weeks of the Ulster Bank All Ireland league involved five Ulster teams. Sadly Banbridge lost out against UCC and a place in Div 1A of the All Ireland League. City of Armagh made it through the playoffs in successive seasons to secure promotion via Div 2B and 2A to take their place in Div 1B next season. For Rainey OB it was heartbreak against Navan RFC as they lost out to a late injury time converted try to deny the Magherafelt side a place in Div 2A. The Ulster derby at Deramore had plenty of drama through to the final whistle as Belfast Harlequins avoided a third straight relegation in successive seasons to retain their place in Div 2B next season at the expense of a gallant Omagh team.
What does it mean for the Ulster teams in the All Ireland league. Well: Div 1A will have five Leinster and five Munster teams. In Div 1B we have five Ulster teams in Banbridge, Ballynahinch, Ballymena, Malone and City of Armagh competing with four Leinster teams and one Connacht team. Queens University find themselves as the only Ulster representatives in Div 2A. In Div 2B Rainey OB are joined by Dungannon and Belfast Harlequins whilst in Div 2C Omagh have Bangor and City of Derry making up the twelve Ulster teams in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League. Instonians failed to make it 13 teams as they were unsuccessful in coming through the Round Robin Playoffs. They will no doubt battle it out with Ballyclare next season in the Ulster Rugby Championship for the league title and a place in the playoffs.
In the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership City of Armagh retained the Stevenson Shield with a 21 – 14 win over nearest rivals Malone at Gibson Park in very difficult weather conditions on Tuesday night. Outstanding matches involving Belfast Harlequins and Bangor at Deramore Park and Omagh against Queens University at the Thomas Mellon playing fields on Thursday night will conclude the Ulster Rugby Premiership programme for this season.
City of Armagh Rugby club have had a remarkable season with the 1st xv winning promotion to Div 1B. The club secured the First Trust Ulster Senior Cup for the first time and retained the Stevenson Shield. Their second xv won the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup, Conference league One title and will win the second xv league title with a win at Malone seconds on Wednesday night with the team losing out to Ballyclare 1st xv in the semi finals of the River Rock Towns Cup. The clubs 3rd xv won Provincial league 3. Their under 18 team retained the Nutty Krust Cup last Wednesday night at Chambers Park and just came up short against Rainey OB in the league/Cup Final at the Kingspan stadium on Saturday. A remarkable season for a club that three seasons ago were mid table in Div 2B. The work started by Brian McLaughlin has been continued this season by Willie Faloon, Chris Parker and Ali Birch as the club have firmly established themselves as the number one club side in Ulster. We should not forget that City of Armagh 1st xv lost out 20 – 13 to Cork Constitution in the semi final of the All Ireland Bateman Cup semi final at the Palace Grounds on the 13.1.18. Cork Constitution went on to lose the final against Lansdowne with these two teams once again meeting on Sunday afternoon 6th May in the Div 1A Playoff Final at the Aviva stadium.
RESULTS FROM the ULSTER BANK ALL IRELAND PLAYOFF MATCHES ON SATURDAY 28.4.18.
DIV 1B PLAYOFF
Banbridge 10 UCC 15
Banbridge team: 1. Eric O’Sullivan, 2. Peter Cromie, 3. Michael Cromie, 4. Chris Allen, 5. Stephen Irvine, 6. Caleb Montgomery, 7. Nick Hayes, 8. Greg Jones, 9. Jason Gribben, 10. Johnny Little, 11. John Porter, 12. James Hume, 13. Andrew Morrison, 14. Conor Field, 15. Adam Ervine (Captain), 16. Jonny Weir, 17.Stuart Cromie, 18. Mike Bentley, 19. Ryan Hughes, 20. Neil Kilpatrick, 21. Josh Cromie, 22. Ben Carson.
Points scorers: Ryan Hughes 1 x try, James Hume 1 x con and 1 x pen.
DIV 2A PLAYOFF FINAL
City of Armagh 33 Nenagh Ormond 23
City of Armagh team: 1. Simon Carlisle, 2. Andrew Smyth, 3. Daryl Morton, 4. Josh McKinley, 5. Peter Starrett, 6. Robert Whitten, 7. Stuart Hooks, 8. Neil Faloon, 9. TC Campbell, 10. Cormac Fox, 11. Robbie Faloon, 12. Johnny Pollock, 13. Chris Colvin (captain), 14. Andrew Willis, 15. Timmy McNeice, 16. Jonny Morton, 17. Paul Mullan, 18. James Morton, 19. Harry Doyle, 20. Evan Crummie, 21. Ryan Purvis, 22. Kyle Faloon.
Points scorers: Andrew Willis and Timmy McNeice 1 x try each. Cormac Fox 1 x con and 5 x pens.
DIV 2B PLAYOFF FINAL
Rainey OB 14 Navan RFC 16
Rainey team: 1. Kieran Donaghy, 2. Daniel O’Neill, 3. Tommy O’Hagan, 4. Ronan McCusker, 5. John McCusker, 6. Timmy Barker, 7. Josh McIIroy, 8. Michael McCusker, 9. Jason Bloomfield, 10. Andrew Magrath, 11. Nicholas Sterling, 12. Jodie McMurray, 13. Damien Mcmurray, 14. Oisin Quinn, 15. Scott McLean, 16. Aidan McSwiggan, 17. Neil O’Kane, 18. Andrew Harbinson, 19. Paul Pritchard, 20. Michael O’Neill, 21darren Corrigan, 22. Andrew Donaghy.
Points scorers: Paul Pritchard 1 x try, Andrew Magrath 3 x pens
DIV 2C PLAYOFF FINAL
Belfast Harlequins 26 Omagh 20
Belfast Harlequins team: 1. Rory Harrison, 2. Saul Herdman, 3. Mark McGrath, 4. Danny Annett (Captain), 5. Callum Leckey, 6. Jaz Andress, 7. Daryl Marshall, 8. Toby Mannus, 9. David Devine, 10. Timmy Emmerson, 11. Christian Bennison, 12. Paul Kerr, 13. Mark Gribben, 14. Richie McKee, 15. Mark Glover, 16. Steven Weir, 17. James Harrison, 18. Dan Bingham, 19. Rory Winters, 20. Matthew Borne, 21. Conor McAuley, 22. James McConnell.
Points scorers: Christian Bennison, Rory Harrison, Mark Gribben and James McConnell 1 x try each. Mark Gribben 3 x cons.
Omagh team: 1. Peter Todd, 2.Philip Ewing, 3. Richard Smyth, 4. Johnny Pollock, 5. Jamie Sproule, 6. James Catterson, 7. Adam Longwell, 8. Matthew Clyde, 9. Stewart McCain (captain), 10. Scott Elliott, 11. Ryan Mitchell, 12. Luke Hanson, 13. Stephen MacLaine, 14. Matty Eccles, 15. Ali Beckett, 16. Kyle Alexander, 17. Richard Hemphill, 18. Stewart Allen, 19. Adam Beattie, 20. Eoin Murnaghan, 21. Yonga Taleni, 22. Jack Mitchell.
Points scorers: Ali Beckett and Stewart McCain 1 x try each. Scott Elliott 2 x cons and 2 x pens.
Congratulations to Richard Boyd and his Ulster Juniors team on their opening 24 – 0 win over Munster last Saturday. The reigning Inter provincial champions play their second match this weekend when they host Connacht Juniors at Ards RFC with a 2.30PM KO. They conclude their fixtures with another home game at UUC on the 12th May when they play Leinster at the Sam Logan stadium.
This season has been another incredibly successful season for Domestic club rugby in Ulster. Much progress has been made as we look to sustain the future of the club game. As I have said before we need to address the need to put in place under 19 and 20 structures to ensure a pathway into the Adult game. Increasing crowds at matches is another indication of the quality of rugby being provided by the clubs. Improved communications has enabled more people to engage with and play a role in their local community clubs. Club development both on the playing side along with improving the infrastructure in terms of facilities is an ongoing process. Without the hundreds/thousands of volunteers who give of their time rugby would not continue to expand in the province. Coach recruitment and Coaching development is another key area within clubs.
Clubs are always looking new volunteers. Can you help. Contact either your local rugby club or the Domestic games team at Ulster Rugby who can provide assistance. Clubs needing advice with developing their club can contact any of the Domestic Rugby staff at Ulster Rugby.
Barry Willis (Acting) Domestic Rugby Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Whitten, Rugby Operations Manager: email@example.com
David Johnston, Funding Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Holmes, Club Services Officer: email@example.com
Chris Shields. Rugby Projects Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another area giving cause for concern is the shortage of referees in Ulster. Is their an opportunity for you to become a referee. Dan Carson is the referee Support Officer in Ulster. He can be contacted at 07889975880 or by e mail email@example.com
Many rugby supporters in Ulster have spoken to me about the Belfast rape trial involving Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding who were found not guilty by a jury. The aftermath of the trial raised many questions with the players having their contracts revoked by the IRFU. All I will say is that I never thought I would see two Ulster born Rugby players exiled by the IRFU and Ulster Rugby from playing professional rugby on the island of Ireland. I though exiling people from Ireland was a relic of the past. There were three petitions that followed the trial on Change.org. One of the petitions I can’t like many Ulster rugby supporters understand is why was the Irish Rugby Football Union ‘Logo’ allowed to be used as a heading on the petition. For an ordinary person looking from the outside in, it gives the impression that the IRFU endorsed this particular petition that was primarily directed against the players. I e mailed the IRFU looking an explanation without success. One journalist told me he had no idea why the IRFU logo had been used. All Rugby supporters want is answers. There appears to have been inconsistency in how players were sanctioned in the aftermath of the case. We all know how close the Rugby community is in Ireland and across the world. When we look how players are given a second chance by other Administrations we ask why were the Ulster and Ireland Players treated so harshly. Irish Society is renowned the world over for being compassionate, caring and willing to give people a second chance. In 2018 are we seeing a society that is less tolerant, vindictive and unforgiving in its attitude to social issues. The rugby community in Ulster and Ireland are only asking for transparency and consistency in how the IRFU process these matters. As I said the rugby family is very close and very little misses their attention. You in the rugby community are entitled to have your voices listened to by those in charge in Ulster and the IRFU.
I did not want to speak out sooner with the Domestic Clubs in Ulster engaged in Playoffs in recent weeks. Finally I would like to thank you all for the support you have given me this season in promoting club rugby in Ulster. In five years reporting on the Domestic club game I see many supporters returning to support their local Community Club. Without a strong Grassroots base in Ulster rugby the game will not continue to grow.
Supporters are welcome to contact me directly through my e mail address firstname.lastname@example.org if there are issues they feel I need to address. Enjoy your spring and summer break and hopefully I will see you all for the start of the 2018/19 season.
Updated 17:16 - 21 May 2018 by Stephen Barbour