No-one Like Us, And We Don’t Care

There was a time when Ulster were Irish rugby royalty – back in the 1980s they ruled the provincial roost under Jimmy Davidson and routinely accounted for large swathes the Irish XV. Allegations of pro-Ulster bias in selection resounded, and Munster were particularly seen as doing badly out of selection toss-ups.

But the situation has changed, changed utterly. Davidson (deposed in 1990) was the last Northern coach of Ireland, and, since professionalism, the growth in the game in Ireland has been driven by the southern provinces, in particular Munster, who remain the darlings of fans and media alike. And whyever not – much more fun to write about the storied Ligind pack than Clinton Schifcofske and Kieran Campbell. Plus Munster and Leinster were actually good – 1999 aside, Ulster have been muck for most of the professional era.

In recent years, Ulster’s potential for growth (from, er, the “other communities”) and hard academy and structural work has begun to pay off – the young players coming up are of the highest quality and are being managed well. The fact that the only four players (Marty Mooradze is close to becoming a fifth) from the Aviva Opening Game playing regular professional provincial rugby are not only Ulstermen, but Ulstermen challenging for Ireland shirts, says a lot.

But Ulster haven’t seemlessly moved back into the royalty zone – in fact, they get routinely patronised by the Irish media. When they went down to Thomond for the HEC quarter-final in 2012, Gerry said “Ulster are the better team, but Munster are the better province”. As they say in the parlance of our times, I was like wtf? And this weekend, when they beat Montpellier on their own patch by 17 points, an improvement of 57 points on Clermont’s most result there and 42 on Toulouse’s, the headlines were about Munster’s humdrum win over Gloucester B. ‘Munster Back on Track’ was the Sunday Times front page headline.  Munster were the first team mentioned in the RTE news item, while Ulster got a cursory mention, described as having ‘kept their hopes alive’ with their win.  Kept them alive?!  Bloody hell!  Had either of the southern powerhouses produced such a result, you can guarantee gushing and drooling coverage.

Old habits die hard, and, to be truthful, Ulster won’t really mind for now. Their bloodlines might be blue, but every Northerner has a deep well of bitterness to draw on – they have been the most impressive Irish province in the HEC this season by a mile, and are set well for another long challenge. If they get underestimated by their chums in the southern meeja, great, someone else to prove wrong.

The inevitable next stage in the chip-athon will be in the November internationals.  Ulster fans have grown well used to their players missing out on marginal team selections in recent seasons, and will be getting their sense of outrage ready for the occasion should, say, Gordon D’arcy be preferred to Luke Marshall.  It seems unlikely though, and there’s good news elewhere.  Paddy Jackson has made up significant ground while Madigan’s progress has stalled and although Iain Henderson is being deployed only as an impact substitute, there’s no reason why Ireland shouldn’t employ him in the same role; his wrecking-ball cameos off the bench have been stirring.  The rampantly in-form Tommy Bowe and Rory Best are certain starters.  The grantite-hard hooker’s throwing may never be better than a C+, but his work rate around the paddock is extraordinary, and against both Leicester and Montpellier he was an immovable object at the breakdown.

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62 Comments

  1. Really impressed with Ulster so far this year, didn’t see much of the great win over Montpellier apart from the highlights but its seems like Trimble was able to catch the ball in comparison to the week before against Leicester.

    I’ve ever been Jackson’s critic in terms of his battle to be Ireland’s second choice outhalf against Madge, but he has been flawless in the last two games. His kicking out of hand is composed and directed, and his place kicking against Leicester a fortnight ago was assured-which is good news for Ireland.

    Players like Olding and Allen have made significant strides, especially Allen who has only really come on the scene this year (correct me if im wrong).

    If they are able to keep their main stalwarts such as Williams, Best, Muller and Bowe fit I think they will have a far better season then many expected in both the Rabo and HCup.

    • Allen is unfortunately largely in a similar place to where he was last year, he started the first few Rabo games well and has great talent, but hasn’t been able to wrestle either of the wing berths out of Bowe/Trimble/Gilroy for the HEC.

    • curates_egg

       /  October 23, 2013

      Always looked like the best placed of the teams for a tilt at the coupe this year. Keeping the squad fit – with presumably a greater contribution to the national set-up to manage – is the key variable, now the foundations have been laid for a home quarter final. You name check some of the “stalwarts” but have forgotten possibly the one most important to winning the whole thing…

  2. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  October 23, 2013

    I think one reason why Ulster invariably get third place coverage (whatever Leinster and Munster’s results are…) is because the southern meeja hacks are just reflecting where their wages are coming from. My guess is that papers like the Indo and IT don’t have significant readership in the north compared to the south, RTE don’t get license money from the north and so on.

    Add to this, Ulster don’t have the silverware yet that makes a team impossible to ignore, and don’t have the Munster “story” that all lazy hacks (a tautology?) fall back on, wheeling out the cliches of past triumphs, passion, honesty, tears…

    And of course, it’s the north. They’re all a bit, well, different up there,

    • Amiga500

       /  October 23, 2013

      Ye ever wonder why the average Ulsterman staggers around with his head down in a bit of a daze?

      Its all these f**king shoppin’ centres. Out “better halves” drive us mad going on… and on… and on… and on about them.

      😉

  3. Ben Corr

     /  October 23, 2013

    Ulster never get the credit they deserve but who cares,Ravenhill is becoming a fortress once again.
    No doubt the Nov internationals will once again reflect where power/influence/and Mia placed loyalties in Irish rugby truly lie.
    Time to for Ulster to consider entering the 7 Nations as a team in our own right!
    SUFTU

  4. The key to Jackson’s success is still in his kicking percentages. To be honest he hasn’t been doing anything different to what he was doing last year, but now people have Murrayfield to compare him against in an Ireland jersey, and while he’s been largely solid there have still been a couple of wobbles which could work against him.

    An Olding/Marshall + Henshaw centre partnership could be damn tasty though!

  5. Leinsterlion

     /  October 23, 2013

    Rory Bests throwing a C+? Really? He makes Cronin look like Carlos Hatchcock at times. He should be on the bench, he is a liability come lineout time, unnaceptable at international level. Other than that, pretty much spot on, though Darce has been playing at a high level I think he is a known commodity and should be considered for back up duty only, the Marshall era is here.
    Although having Jackson on the bench over Maddog is a bit redundant, Jackson doesnt have the spark to win games by himself, hes a competent player but he’s nothing spectacular. What does Jackson offer by the way of game changing ability?
    I would start Hendo in November, McCarthy isnt fit, Dev is too tall, Ryan is out, POC isnt fit or performing at a high level. He should be thrown in. Ulster should have sizable contingent in the squad at the very least, if they dont the situation north of the border could, eh, get explosive…..

    • Neither Best nor Cronin are exactly snipers when it comes to throwing. I can’t talk to Cronin as well as I can to Best but Rory’s darts have been *miles* better than they were in the second half of last season, and he seems to have gotten over the worst of his yips. He still isn’t perfect, but Ulster’s lineout is no longer the liability it was (see: QF vs Sarries).

      In terms of out half, I’d direct you to the Leicester game where Jackson was pretty much instrumental in everything good about Ulster’s attack without having to rely totally on garryowens. Even his 70+ metre run which was called offside (incorrectly from my admittedly biased point of view) was great. I think Madigan’s being a little hard-done-by in Leinster for not getting a starting berth, but there are still two games before the AI’s, and Schmidt knows what he can do on his day so he isn’t out of the reckoning.

      Out of interest, who would you pair with Henderson? You ruled out pretty much every international lock other than O’Callaghan and Tuohy!

      • Leinsterlion

         /  October 23, 2013

        I’m not calling for Cronin to start, I was merely using his wobbly throwing as a yardstick which Best has fallen short of. I accept throwing is not just down to one thing, jumpers play their part, but he hast been up to scratch. With Strauss out Its down to Varley, Sherry, Best and Cronin, I’d pick whoever is the best thrower, Sherry possibly? Its not a great selection of hookers, I dont envy Schmidt on that call.

        Who would I pair with Hendo? I’d ignore his form and fitness and start POC with Tuohy on the bench. Other then that we are down to the bare bones in the locking dept going on form /fitness and injury. Toner, imo is not a viable international, McCarthy looks gassed and with Ryan out it is down to Donners, Hendo, unfit POC and Tuohy imo, take your pick.

        • Cian

           /  October 23, 2013

          Although I completely disagree with the central tenet of your rugby philosophy, Leinsterlion, I have to admit that your internal logic is impressively consistent and surprisingly resistant to perturbation by provincial bias.

        • Hah, and after all that Henderson’s out of consideration for Ireland due to injury http://www.ulsterrugby.com/15733.aspx

          • Leinsterlion

             /  October 23, 2013

            Ha, POC and Tuohy? Not a great selection to face Un-Zee but more than enough to handle the convicts and Islanders

    • Amiga500

       /  October 23, 2013

      “Although having Jackson on the bench over Maddog is a bit redundant, Jackson doesnt have the spark to win games by himself, hes a competent player but he’s nothing spectacular. What does Jackson offer by the way of game changing ability?”

      I long for the day you realise it is less about the performance of an individual player than that individual player raising the performance of the entire unit.

      Jackson can run. Jackson can pass. Jackson can kick for the corners.
      Madigan will run.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  October 23, 2013

        If for whatever reason JS has to come off who would you put in to match up against the likes of Cruden or Carter(if fit), a solid Ian Humphrey/Keatley type of player who is below top level in all facets of the game or a guy with the ability to run and pass hard and flat on the gainline? Madigan is a gamebreaker, we have not beaten Un-Zee with stale game mangers or a solid kicking game, running at them and testing them is the way to do it, not, “kicking and hoping for a mistake that will never come”(copyright ROG/DK rugby industries).

        As for kicking to the corner, depending on our dodgy selection of hookers and patched up, out of form second rows, as a dependable source of possession would be a horrendously stupid tactic. I’d expect it from Kidney, if Schmidt pulls a stunt like that we might as well write off international rugby and wait until the HC rolls back around in December.

        Jackson literally offers nothing that a Steenson or any number of second tier tens offer, hes ordinary and boring.

      • osheaf01

         /  October 23, 2013

        Don’t upset yourself. In LeinsterLionWorld, ROG would never have been capped for Ireland, nor Dan Carter for NZ ahead of the Great Carlos Spencer. Heck, LeinsterLion probably thinks Contepomi outplayed ROG in that HEC semi, in 2006.
        The means justify the ends…

        • Leinsterlion

           /  October 23, 2013

          Ah, ROG would have gotten all the caps available at 10 between 05 and 08 when there was literally no one else, other than that, what use is a guy permenantly dug in 10 meteres behind the gainline who has has to be sheparded in defence by the 12 and backrow, cant pass on the gainline, cant run, in other words a passenger in large facets of the game. Its telling how little he is rated outside of the Lunster and Munster rugby bastions where the Age of Enlightenment has yet start.
          Felipe didnt outplay ROG in the semi, but he produced a performance level ROG could only dream of in the quarters when we gutted and filleted a stacked Toulouse team. We didnt turn up in the semis, so what, we were the best performing team that year.

          • Kelly Peters

             /  October 23, 2013

            “It’s amazing how little he is rated outside of the Lunster and Munster rugby bastions” – anything to back that up?

          • Leinsterlion

             /  October 23, 2013

            Pull up a newspaper article from SANZAR nations or wales, or go onto practically any rugby forum outside of Ireland and there is repect for his kicking and longevity but nothing else, he was never in discussion to be thought of as a top player outside of Ireland. Google O’Gara overrated.
            Here is quote from Brendan Gallagher of the telegraph “O’Gara is consistently a match winner and star turn for Munster in Europe but over the years Ireland have often confused his Provincial form with his much more indifferent offerings for the national cause. ”
            Faint praise… I’ll find a few primary sources later to back up my claims. and link them here

          • “Literally no-one else”? You’re seriously telling me the Province of Enlightenment couldn’t rustle up an alternative candidate to pass/run on the gainline? I know Leinster had the luxury of 3 “top class” picks at 10 at the time, in the shape of Doctor Phil, Christian Warner and David Holwell, but surely some native talent – say, the luminous Guy Easterby, whom we all remember from his stunning display at Murrayfield, 2001 – could have been converted to an IRQ 10?
            Speaking of that semi, have you forgotten that it was the elusive, line-breaking ROG who slipped through for the clinching try? Though I suppose slipping past MOK wasn’t much of a feat.
            I seem to remember Munster “gutted and filleted a stacked” Ospreys team in the 2009 HEC quarters but, unlike you, I wouldn’t consider that any sort of consolation for the subsequent semi-final debacle.

          • Paddy

             /  October 23, 2013

            ROG isn’t rated that much outside of Ireland. Most positive opinions stem from his performances for Munster at CLUB level. I’m not trawling the net for this stuff I’ve no interest in re-reading. Some club fans in France would love to have had him at 10….at CLUB level! Beyond that his lions cameo seems to be the abiding memory in the minds of home nation fans.
            It’s also coloured heavily by the end of his career now. So it’s hard to get an accurate reading of his worth now.

    • zdm

       /  October 23, 2013

      Aye, Cronin is a regular van Barneveld from the line isn’t he?
      Better than Rory Best? Christ, pull the one with bells on it next time!

  6. I don’t think too many Ulster fans will be overly concerned about marginal calls that Schmidt might make. Bowe and Best will likely be the only ones in the starting 15. That’s fine as far as I’m concerned. You should only get an Ireland shirt when you are clearly the best available in that position. When Luke Marshall is clearly better than Darcy, that will be the time for him. No point in setting him up for the same avalanche of cow excrement that cascaded onto Jackson’s 20 year old shoulders last spring.
    As for Henderson, there is no need to rush him into things. He is a class act but again, let O’Connell, McCarthy, O’Callaghan and Toner do their thing. Henderson and Tuohy might be in great form compared to two of those guys but you know what they say about form and class. Mostly drivel I think but hey, nothing like a good rugby cliche to keep out of form players in the side. Guys like Gilroy, Henry, Cave, Olding and Trimble have little prospect of selection considering the stellar players who are in the driving seats in those positions.
    Let’s also hope Ross gets fit to back up young Marty Moore. He does look like a real t/h – at last. Leave Deccie Fitzpatrick to keep up the Ulster tight-head side with Afoa now that Moore has arrived fully formed. Court of course has already been binned in favour of ‘Killer’ and Cronin. Luckily for him he has only been up against opponents like Dan Cole, Adam Jones and a couple of anonymous French guys in the last 3 weeks. Fortunate hey! that he didn’t have to play against the titans off Edinburgh and the reserves of Gloucester.

    • Jimbob

       /  October 23, 2013

      Court always seems to do well for Ulster but has never really replicated that for Ireland for some reason. Possibly because he’s was regularly forced to play tighthead when we had the old 22 man squads or maybe because he’s just not an international standard player. Despite that, I think he’s been given enough opportunity in green and it’s time for someone else. Kilcoyne looks ok, while Jack McGrath and James Cronin look like they could put some pressure on Healy in a year or two. I’d get those boys playing games now with a view to having quality depth by the time the world cup rears its ugly head.

  7. Cian

     /  October 23, 2013

    It would be good to see Ulster make that final step to success this season. I think the real test is yet to come for them, though: as it stands they’re looking pretty similar to last year’s team, and last year’s team should certainly have been good enough to win the Rabo.

    On a less hopeful note, it will be interesting to see which province ends up feeling hard done by Joe Schmidt’s squad selections. There’ll almost certainly be at least one!

  8. Bushmills

     /  October 23, 2013

    Great article. No likes us, we don’t care (actually we do).

    I think you should have mentioned David Humphreys. We all know the professional age is still blighted by blazers, but here is a guy from destined blazer pedigree (Ballymena Academy, Queens, Ulster, Ireland) that has proven to be World class sports administrator.

    While Gerry and the boys down South fill the pages with tales of players and their contract woes (Dr Evil Fintan Drury, etc), Humphreys and co have gotten Pienaar to sign for another 3 years. Think about that. The incumbent Springbok stays in pissing wet Belfast. Johnny Sexton writes a book about how wanted to stay in Dublin but the blazers screwed him. Not to mention new contracts for Diack, Williams, Marshall, Henry to name a few in recent days. Even John Afoa, who has been injured and his wife and three kids live on the other side of the planet may well yet be talked into staying by Humhpreys! Oh, and he has almost finished building a new stadium for for a Heino semi.

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  October 23, 2013

      Totally agree Bushmills, the Humph is (as he was in his playing days) the difference, and a shrewd operator at the top table. You overlook the fact that he brought Bowe, Pienaar and Afoa to the club in the first place; surely a harder sell three years ago than it is today. Also the middle level transfers – Wannenburg, Williams, Terblanche, Wilson – have all been much, much better than expected and add more than our money’s worth on game day.

      Couple that with letting McLaughlin go (a huge call), the new Ravers (now even fortressier) and the new outreach programmes the province owe him a huge amount – silverware at the very least this season.

      • Amiga500

         /  October 23, 2013

        Lets not forget Jared Payne…

        What a gem he is turning out to be.

        • Bowe Gathers

           /  October 23, 2013

          Too right, style and substance. A gem from relative obscurity…

  9. Mike

     /  October 23, 2013

    I think that (with the exception of David Humphreys treatment by O’Sullivan) Ulster players get a fair crack of the whip in general, and that the marginal calls that went against some of them was more to do with the coaches involved (Kidney), than any great conspiracy (think how many chances Paddy Jackson got). Its no secret that coaches will pick players who they have worked with before and they also like to pick combinations in rugby. Whilst Darcy and Marshall might be a 50/50 call, the Sexton & D’Arcy combination is a better choice.

    I do think that the last few seasons that there was a narrative being pushed by the Indo/irish Times/RTE that Ulsters success was all down to the foreign imports, and this was the basis for the likes of the ‘better province’ nonsense. With the likes of Olding, Henderson, Marshall etc etc coming through that will change. Unfortunately you will have to give Thornely and his colleagues a few seasons to notice what is staring them in the face.

    Its not necessarily a bad thing though. They do give us plenty to laugh at…

    • Patrick O'Riordan

       /  October 23, 2013

      That was certainly true of the unlamented Hugh Farrelly whose article with “an Ulster win would be bad for Ireland” before the Munster v Ulster 11/12 HEC QF was dressing room wall material.

  10. Peat

     /  October 23, 2013

    I’d say Best’s throwing more than C. Anyone remember the post-World Cup season? Rory Best, most accurate thrower in the Heineken Cup? 90%+ lineout accuracy in New Zealand? He’s not quite up to those standards after a season of meltdown, but his average success rate after the first two rounds of HEC is 84pc. Not bad.

    Personally, I am preparing my best enraged comments for the overlooking of Ulster players – they want to play for Ireland, so I want them to play for Ireland. So boo to the absence of Cave and Trimble (Dave Kearney, seriously?). Boo to the fact Dan Tuohy will probably get nowhere near the pitch. A gigantic roar of disapproval at the non-selection of Roger Wilson. Ironically, while its great to see Tom Court recognised, I don’t think any Ulster fan in their right mind could have objected to his absence.

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  October 23, 2013

      Paul Marshall ignored OUTRAGE Gilroy not listed as injured OUTRAGE only 8 from 34 OUTRAGE D’Arcy DK Fergus McFadden O SO MUCH OUTRAGE

      • Amiga500

         /  October 23, 2013

        This situation is unacceptable!!! I call for dialogue with the Irish coaching staff to rectify this insult to the concerned residents of ravenhill stadium.

        We should have at least fufty men in the Ireland squad.

        • Bowe Gathers

           /  October 23, 2013


          “In the interest of meaningful dialogue and progress (spit)”

        • Peat

           /  October 23, 2013

          At least we can console ourselves with the knowledge that the future Irish backline is ours (9 not included) and that if we can’t bring through the pack as well, we’ll just import a bunch of massive Saffas to play with Henderson. SORTED.

  11. Amiga500

     /  October 23, 2013

    OI!!! Bloodlines might be blue? Assumption is the mother of all f**k ups there fellas.

    Its becoming much more mixed these days… I’ve seen a few others dander round ravenhill in gah fleeces/coats (too cold for just tops! :-D).

    Times, they are a changin’.

  12. Odd that Gilroy didn’t make the November squad or the “injured” list. Otherwise the biggest call is probably dropping Kilcoyne.

    Regarding the article, there are numerous reasons why we don’t get the same coverage in the Irish media, and money is the main one. As someone above said, the Indo and IT will play to their readership, which is bigger south of the red line on the map.

    • Amiga500

       /  October 23, 2013

      He is just coming back from rolling his ankle – maybe they’ll see how he fares over the next week or two before making a call.

  13. If you were to pick your hooker on throwing alone Sean Henry is clearly the man to lead Ireland against NZ. However as Peat correctly points out its a percentage issue much like kicking. Unfortunately what percentage level a player fits into can only be accurately assessed after their career is over; Best was a 90% thrower at one point and will be again, but it may be his overall level is an 80 for instance. That leaves you with more than a few 70% or lower games that even out over the course of his career.

    • Peat

       /  October 23, 2013

      Indeed. On the bright side, he appears to have got a lot of those out of the way!

  14. Bueller

     /  October 23, 2013

    It does seem as though Ulster have come out on the wrong side of a few of the 50/50s this time but I suppose that’s why they are called 50/50s. The only one I would really contest is Reddan over Paul Marshall? (Maybe Gilroy over D. Kearney?) Other than that the squad seems pretty fair. McGrath over Kilcoyne might seem a little strange but certainly seems the form selection (Heard a few grumbles that Kilcoyne was ‘excellent’ vs Gloucester but I didn’t see it and haven’t yet this season)..Maybe it is Tom Court who should feel lucky though.
    I think people blow the whole provincial bias out of proportion with the national selection. I don’t think Kidneys bizarre calls were the perceived provincial bias which he often got blasted for as much as ‘old school’ biased. On first inspection 17 Leinster men could look a little ‘leinster biased’ of Schmidt but when you go through them they are all very defendable.
    The current squad break-down is: 17 Leinster, 8 Ulster, 7 Munster, 1 Connacht, 1 Racing Metro.
    For anyone who cares, if you were to adjust for injury (include Strauss, Henderson, Ryan, Zebo and Ferris, at the expense of Sherry, McLaughlin, Toner, D. Kearney and Coughlan) and for original provinces (Sexton, Boss (sort of Ulster), Reddan, Cronin and Ross) the breakdown would read : 12 Leinster, 11 Ulster, 10 Munster and 1 Connacht….pretty balanced on the top 3! Poor old Connacht haven’t got a huge amount to grumble about as their general contenders have largely been missing this season. Henshaw could be the main man though!
    Yes-I have too much time on my hands…
    If Drico doesn’t make it who do people want to see at 13?

    • Bowe Gathers

       /  October 23, 2013

      Caaaaaaave? Has been great on the deck for Ulster very recently, but he’s no better than good. McFads seemed the obvious successor but two successive coaches haven’t picked him there even in the Rabo, which makes me wonder what they see in his game to prevent him becoming Brian’s one true heir. Earls no way, Henshaw, Marshall and Olding all way too green for 13 – I really really can’t call it.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  October 23, 2013

        Ferg has an utter lack of vison, he is big, strong, fast and can pass, but he cannot see whats on or when to put the right pass, he’ll never get another shot until Darce and Drico are gone. We also have a dearth of quality wingers so he is playing on the wing out of necessity.

      • therealspratt

         /  October 24, 2013

        Ach come along now, Cave is so much more than good, certainly one of the smartest rugby brains in the country, would love at him to get a fair crack at the 13 shirt

        • Bowe Gathers

           /  October 24, 2013

          Selfish and grumpy, ideally suited to gribbly defensive work. Where he fits into the idea of a free flowing Schmidt backline is beyond me. A canny defensive operator, but he’s not a world beater by any stretch.

          • Bowe Gathers

             /  October 24, 2013

            Having said that he and BOD are the only two Irishmen wearing 13 with any kind of position specific awareness these days. I do feel Payne can be a bit of a luxury at times, not what you want when massive English players are lining up to run into you.

    • doughballs

       /  October 23, 2013

      Payne.

  15. Thanks for all the comments chaps. Unsurprisingly, talk has already turned to the November international squad. We’ll hold off getting involved today and blog our reaction to it today.

    No doubt the points above about the Irish meeja following the money and playing to the galleries somewhat are spot on. It still doesn’t account for some of the dafter coverage, though, such as Gerry’s ‘Munster are the better province’ folly or the awful Hugh Farrelly (unlamented, indeed) article saying an Ulster win over Munster would be bad for Irish rugby.

  16. zdm

     /  October 23, 2013

    Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – he had clearly never read the Indo rugby section!
    The day Girry and his goons start fawning over an Ulster team is the day I hand in my Ulster jersey for a Belfast Giants one – nothing motivates us northerners more than thinking that the hacks in Dublin hate us!
    Seriously though, the Irish media are missing a trick – rugby fans in the north are literally starved of media input – the market share is too small for the BBC to give a shite about and the local papers stopped giving a damn about Ulster rugby after Jack Kyle retired so there is a cavernous gap there to be filled – even if it was filled with ten pages of patronising dross, thats ten pages more than at present!

    In some ways, Ulster are in the position that they are because they were so shite for so many years – there was no need to talk about maintaining structures and no superstar egos to accommodate when facing the players in the correct direction was an achievement. They were therefore able to take time to get a working formula in place, save their pennies and focus on their academy – about 5 years back, I remember every second announcement from the Ulster website was about a new youth contract and it has paid dividends. Once that was in place, they were in a position to blow their budget on a few marquee signings a year safe in the knowledge that a solid foundation was in situ.

  17. Paddy

     /  October 23, 2013

    Munster in particular(they still buy papers) and Leinster are to Rugby what Dublin are to the GAA for the Meeja. I think that about sums it up. Connacht are in the same boat too. It’s odd because the year they won the HEC was one I think really raised the profile of rugby in Ireland. It was bizarre to see an Irish team win over any foreign opposition. Despite their brand of total gash rugby their progression was compelling viewing. From their on I followed Leinster(Season ticket holder now) Munster and even Connacht(looked out for their result in the Amlin). I think their success is great for the sport but just won’t sell ads for the interested parties.
    Always though the bleating about foreign players was just trolling. Munster have had their fair share of imports over the years and it was ignored in that Farrelly article(and subsequent Jerry articles about how many of the Munster players are locally produced blah blah blah). I think they’ll be the majority province in the Irish team for the years to come
    Ulster have a different narrative now. A real identity (think McIlroy) in the hand, more diverse(from above), broke their duck in France(more gash rugby), been hammered in one final and narrowly beaten in another. It’s now or never for silverware. Be interesting to see how it gets picked up by the media.

    Going forward they look a bit light in the front row after Afoa(I don’t trust Fitz) leaves and Court has hardly 2 years in him. Anyone coming trhu with intl. aspirations or just “standard” props

    • therealspratt

       /  October 24, 2013

      Deccie Fitz has been doing a good job of proving himself over the last while, a chocolate teapot no more. Now as to our other props, Lutton’s proven himself to be a solid operator on the tighthead side and McCall did well against Cian Healy on his debut though from what I hear he’s more of a loosie. On loose we have Callum Black who has been pushing Court for the starting spot of late not sure whether he’s of international standard but we’ll get a better idea in the upcoming season, certainly the new rules have helped him to no end. And finally we Have Paddy Mac who’ll be back in due course, he might be able to do something…

    • Don Alfonso

       /  October 24, 2013

      Why is it now or never for Ulster? I keep reading this. The appearances of Jackson, Marshall, Henderson, Olding, Allen, Heaney suggest the future’s barren? To say nothing of Annet, Joyce, Farrell, Scholes, Nelson, McCall? Every year, every near miss, players like Henry, Cave, Tuohy, Trimble, Marshall – the foot warriors, if you like – get more experience, learn more about functioning under pressure. Will that all evaporate at the end of this season? If we don’t win silverware, we’ll be back battling next season.

      Ulster’s rise from the bottom has been fast and focussed. The coach that got us to the HEC final is now involved with our academy, nurturing young talent.

      Believe me, no-one wants silverware more than us long-suffering Ulster fans. But very simply, there is no compelling reason to think It’s “now or never”. That’s just the latest lazy “Ulster cliche”.

    • Peat

       /  October 24, 2013

      Leaving aside the shoddy state of European rugby, what happens next and whether there will be anything worthwhile out there – I’d say that Ulster’s age profile and signing pattern gives them a good few more years yet to win something, and the arguable possibility of a golden age when Jackson/Olding/Hendy et al are in their pomp.

      • Bowe Gathers

         /  October 25, 2013

        Only one real reason, and his name is Afoa. We’re not keeping him, and he will be a staggering loss – world class THs with an all round game don’t occur in the wild very often. If we’re to win we need at least two top quality technical scrummagers, which we have in Rory and Afoa. When he goes we’ll be taken down four or five levels of quality in what seems like the most important position on the pitch these days.

        • Peat

           /  October 25, 2013

          There’s a fair chance I’ll regret making this statement – but I’m not worried about going about our business with the Chocolate Teapot and Lutton as our first choice tightheads. I think they’ll keep the scrum steady enough. They won’t add as much in the loose, or be as much of a weapon in the scrum, but they’ll do. However, its a valid point, and having someone like Chris Taylor or Michael Lagan really develop would be great. If not, some project players beckon!

  18. Yossarian

     /  October 24, 2013

    Ulster are set to stay at the top of Irish rugby with Leinster for years to come. The new stadium and training facilities are top drawer.The player pathways from school/youths to First team are well set up. Leinster are similarly established. It will come down to player base as to who comes out on top (Leinster had/have the players but they are ageing, Ulster have the up and comers) Munster have fallen way behind in their off field set up. I think they have decided to go with Limerick (UL) as their main centre of operations so when that all gets established and remedial work is done on their youth/school to First team pathways they will start competing again regularly for top spot.
    In terms of team selection if ALL the Ulster team were Irish qualified they would have a higher proportion of the Irish squad. (Piennar for Boss, Muller for Toner, Payne for D.Kearney, N.Williams for Coughlin) Ulster just have a few overseas players in key positions. I have no issue with that. Munster had their overseas contingent to help them to their first H-Cup(Tipoki/Mafi/Williams) and so did Leinster(Rocky/Isa/Stan) Ulster are entitled to the same.
    As for Cave and Trimble; Cave has a great brain for the game but not quick or strong enough. Trimble is Quick and strong enough but alas no brain for the game. No place on an international pitch for his lone uncordinated shooting in defence and general error count.

  19. Ulaidh

     /  October 24, 2013

    Great article. It’s something that has been bothering me for some time as an ulsterman living in dublin! Particularly the criticism that has been directed at PJ, which is shameful. On the one hand everyone shouts for youth to be given their fling (if he was Australian himself and Madigan wld have 30 caps, etc) but then he is less than perfect with the boot against Scotland and everyone south of the border only too delighted to put the knife in. The kid is 21 for gods sake! Where was sexton at 21? It has been a pleasure watching him come into some real form again so far this season. Got to be on the bench for the AIs.

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