The annual Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards Ceremony was held on Thursday evening, at the Culloden Hotel where Ulster, Ireland and Lions back row forward Stephen Ferris scooped the top accolade of Heineken Personality of the Year singled out for his remarkable come-back from injury and subsequent barn-storming performances for Ulster and Ireland this season.
Ferris has been instrumental in Ulster’s success on the field this season and his level of performance is all the more remarkable given his come-back from the potentially career-ending injury he sustained last January in Round 6 of the Heineken Cup.
Twelve months ago the jury was out as to whether or not he would ever play rugby again, but he remained resolute and determined throughout a slow and often painful recovery period and has emerged faster, fitter and stronger than ever to become a true talisman for the Province.
Ulster born and bred he epitomises everything that Ulster Rugby is about. Hugely impressive physically his explosive ball carrying and supremely aggressive defence are just two of his standout qualities and his three Heineken Cup Man of the Match Awards this season highlight his importance to the Ulster team.
Over 300 guests gathered to celebrate achievements and development of rugby at all levels with the ceremony, bringing together the cream of the crop in Ulster. The awards recognise the role that school, youth, club and professional players, as well as their teams and clubs, play in the development of the game in the province.
The other award winners in full were as follows:
Calor Gas Ulster Youth Player of the Year – Russell Blair, Ballymoney RFC
This season was Russell’s second season with Ulster Youth. He is a big, athletic second row outstanding in the lineout and carries the ball well in open play. Due to his dedication this year to training and the development of his skills he has been capped for the Irish U18 (Youth) team
Ulster Branch Schools Player of the Year – James Harrison Methodist College
James has just completed his 3rd season in the Methodist College front row. His technical ability in the set piece has seen him win Inter-Provincial honours as a prop forward at both Ulster Schools’ U18 level and Ulster U19 level in the past two seasons. He has the ability to play on both sides of the scrum with equal effectiveness but it his ability with the ball in hand that has impressed observers of the schools’ game this season.
Phoenix Gas Academy Player of the Year – Chris Farrell
The teenager signed off 2011 with his first two Ulster caps, turning out against Leinster at the RDS and Munster at Ravenhill. A powerful centre, who hails from Fivemiletown, Chris came to the game through the Clogher Valley club and is a dangerous runner who always challenges the gain line and has an effective off-loading game. One to watch.
URSC Player of the Season – Pedrie Wannenburg
Presented by the Ulster Rugby Supporters’ Club, this award is made to an Ulster player who has
had an outstanding season with the club. Pedrie received a magnificent trophy designed by local artist and URSC member Bob Sloan and a Frederique Constant watch supplied by McNeilly’s Jewellers.
Kukri Club of the Year – Malone RFC
While the promotion of the 1st XV to Section 1B of the Ulster Bank All Ireland League may have grabbed the headlines it is the success attained throughout the Club which has lead to Malone RFC being declared the winners of the Kukri Club of the Year for 2012. The 2nd XV in addition to winning Conference League 3 also won the McCrea Cup despite being taken into extra time by Queens University. At Youth level the U19 and U17 teams finished 1st and 2nd in their respective leagues and both teams reached the finals of the Cup Competitions with the U19 team emerging as winners. Congratulations must go to the U19 team on reaching the final of the All Ireland Cup in which they were defeated narrowly.
Not being content with their promotion in the league the young 1st XV won the Ulster Section of the IRFU Club 7’s competition.
Overall it has been a very good season for a Club which has worked hard to produce the talented young teams that have been recognised by this award.
Belfast Telegraph Most Improved Ulster Player of the Year – Paul Marshall
A real live-wire around the fringes capable of lifting the temp of the game the improvement in Paul’s passing, box-kicking and all-round game management over the last 12 months has really singled him out for this award. His quick tap penalty leading to his 73 minute try for Ulster against Leicester at Ravenhill played no small part in securing Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final berth.
Dorrington B Faulkner Award sponsored by Perennials – John Wilson
John Wilson is best known for his role a Chairman of the Ulster School’s Committee, a post which he has held for eight years and during that period he carried out his duties in a very proactive and enthusiastic manner.
One of the legacies he leaves as he retires from this role will be the current Schools’ Cup format which was his initiative and which has been very successful. In addition he has championed the support of the IRFU Charitable Trust by Schools and his enthusiastic leadership in this area has resulted in many thousands of pounds being donated by the Schools to the Trust.
John has willingly made himself available to sit on various committees and disciplinary hearings. His Chairmanship of a Working Party looking into difficulties experienced in the 2nd XV league lead to the delivery of ‘The Wilson Report’ which has been a template for the creation of the current Conferences Leagues.
Prior to his involvement with the Branch John had been both a player and coach at City of Armagh RFC where he still retains his Club allegiance. In his capacity as a coach he also had spells at Cooke, Queens University and with the Ulster Juniors as well at the schools where his teaching career took him. We take this opportunity to wish him a happy retirement and thank him for his considerable contribution to rugby in Ulster.
Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year – Chris Henry
Words like ‘consistent’ and ‘dependable’ just don’t really seem to do justice to Chris Henry. Over the past twelve months has been outstanding for Ulster and his defence and ability to slow the ball at the breakdown and win turnovers were perhaps most evident in the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Munster at Thomond Park. The heart and soul of the Ulster pack, Chris has adapted his style of play to really make the Ulster No7 jersey his own and become one of the best open-side flankers in Europe.
Ken Goodall Award for Outstanding Club Player of the Year – Richard Lutton (Belfast Harlequins)
Richard returned from a stint playing rugby in New Zealand last season to become an important part of a dominant Belfast Harlequins pack this year. A strong scrummager who is very effective around the pitch, he also put in some big performances for the Ulster Ravens this year.
Vodafone Young Ulster Player of the Year – Craig Gilroy
No danger of a second season slump for this young man. Last year’s Academy Player of the Year has continued to make an impact with 26 starts from 29 games to date. Craig’s ability to beat someone one-on-one was perhaps most evident in his memorable try at Thomond Park last month which helped secure Ulster’s passage to the Heineken Cup semi-finals.