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Part of the 50,000 crowd for the PRO12 Cup Final take their places at a refurbished Ravenhill!

Part of the 50,000 crowd for the PRO12 Cup Final make their way up the back of the stand at a refurbished Ravenhill!

After all the jacks are in their boxes,

And the clowns have all gone to bed,

You can hear sadness staggering on down the street,

In handprints dressed in red,

And the wind cries Ulsterrrr!

Could have been the unknown Ulster fan on Saturday night come Sunday morning on a deserted London street post Ulster’s match with Saracens.

Disgruntled, morose and despondent, all the adjectives that describe the dejected feelings from watching an Ulster team for whom this match came a week too early.

Too many players not up to full match fitness through no fault of their own and a management unwilling to trust the vagaries of the backup players in the squad meant that we saw a disjointed performance. In truth the game was all over by halftime, that was my gut instinct at the interval and nothing I saw afterwards disproved it.

Disgruntled fans raised their heads this week after Shane Logan, Ulster’s embattled CEO, raised his head above the parapet to tell supporters that should the team reach a home final for the PRO 12, it would be played in an ‘away’ stadium in Dublin.

The promise of a Ravenhill PRO 12 final evaporated in an instant and recriminations were equally swift. When I first heard mention of a potential home Heineken quarter final being played in Ravenhill utilising the new stand/s, I was dubious and I’m not surprised that they are not ready.

Shane Logan has had to front up with this unpalatable truth and take the brickbats that have been thrown his way by supporters espousing all the panache of a crowd of fundamentalists stoning an adulterer.

Shane Logan has been badly advised by others who were responsible for implementing the Ravenhill building programme.

The individual that springs to mind immediately is the project sponsor, cum facilities manager, who has been asked to play a role of looking after the client’s interests in making sure the programme, budget and brief are met in the build by liaising with the main contractor, combined with a post project job as stadium manager.

These are two entirely different roles and require two different mindsets and skills. The individual is more likely to be orientated towards a facilities management role than one as project sponsor as they will be required to run the stadium facilities at a profit, as was stipulated in the job brief.

Once the steel and concrete has been erected there becomes the much more labour intensive task of completing the railings and seating to stringent safety standards, electrics for CCTV, lighting, PA, signage and finally commissioning to the safety standards as set by City council.

This is not done in a day, Rome style.

Some of the grief from supporters concerns the nomination of the RDS as the ‘home’ ground based on the fact that Ulster potentially could meet Leinster in the final, making it a home final for the Dubliners.

There is a bit of water to flow under the Ravenhill and RDS bridges before this reality beckons. Ulster seem to be in the driving seat as I type. A losing bonus point against the Cardiff Blues may be sufficient but a team with Ulster’s ambitions will want to beat Cardiff at Ravenhill and be assured of that top league placing.

Following a mid to late season stutter that saw them plummet from multiple points clear to 3rd, they regained their equilibrium like a boxer who has been on the ropes and survived the hail of blows to regroup and grow stronger as the fight progresses.

Key to this has been the other contenders playing each other and having a difficult run in and of course Ulster outplaying their main rivals Leinster at their potential ‘home’ PRO 12 Final location in Dublin.

This was followed up with a clinical seeing to of the Dragons in a 20 minute spell and a big gun bench emptying second half act at the Galway Sportsground on Friday night against an extremely competitive Connaught side.

Once again the highlight was the performance of the so called youngsters, Stuart Olding and an Ian Henderson cameo replete with off load to Tommy Bowe for a superbly taken try.

Silver linings emote like tulips in springtime as a crisis at centre threatened to become a disaster. With one front line 12 gone, never to return and another two sidelined through injury it looked as though an emergency contingency would be required, until a youthful Stuart Olding quietly and efficiently stepped up to the plate.

One cannot but be quietly satisfied at this state of affairs but also I reflect that had Olding played for say Leinster, pundits would be raving on about the fabled Leinster academy conveyor belt of centres and immediately promoting him to Ireland status.

As it is, Ulster have quietly went about promoting young talent on the basis of ability rather than age. Injuries and expediency have of course played a part here, but nevertheless they have promoted so called youngsters and given them chances to establish themselves on the team.

We are unfairly ridiculed as a team based on foreigners by elements in the southern media , with all the panache of someone press ganged into writing about an unloved relative. Credit comes with a conditional tag.

Tony Ward has become the latest Independent rugby pundit to complain about keyboard warriors. Following on from Farrelly’s inglorious rant and exit, Wardy finds himself in the firing line after his observations on the Paul O’Connell’s, kick ahead, any head, episode in last weekend’s by now hackneyed Munster, Leinster, derby in Thomond.

I have an opportunity to express my opinion which thankfully doesn’t reach proportions of Wardy’s audience but for my money O’Connell got off lightly. There was enough mitigation spouted about his reckless boot as to make OJ’s lawyer blush.

O’Connell’s rush of blood to the head reminds me of Martin Johnson, another 2nd row to reach the elusive heights of iconic status upon which he was often excused acts of thuggery on the basis he was a great leader etc.

Let’s not proffer monumental deity on O’Connell as to make him the rugby equivalent of a Vatican saint. He is no choir boy and his efforts to separate Kearney’s head from his shoulders in an attempt to reach the ball should have been punished, period.

It sets a dangerous precedent and a two tier status for players when there is an apparent let off clause due to status within the game when it comes to straying outside what is deemed legitimate.

Had this been Ulster’s Dan Tuohy, for example, who had transgressed, I have no doubt it would have been minimum 4 weeks in the cooler and Ulster rugby saying we accept the punishment.

Much of the controversy swirls round the citing commissioner and his decision not to cite O’Connell, with the PRO 12 system of discipline enforcement being held up as soft. That is a get out clause for journos like Tony Ward who would rather not call it as it is.

It was an act of thuggery by one of Ireland’s cherished, iconic players, whether he was malicious in intent or not.




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