WHEN Irish international Paddy Wallace sneaked a burger at Ulster Rugby’s open training session at Strabane Academy’s Derry Road campus on Thursday morning chief chef Davy Warnock asked him, “Do you want to test that to make sure it contains the required nutritional value?”
Wallace, who is still recovering from a knee injury, looked around sheepishly to make sure coach Mark Anscombe hadn’t heard the Strabane wise-crack, smiled politely and duly tucked into his greasy grub – wouldn’t you if you’d been eating pasta, rice, fish, chicken and the like for the past 15 seasons?
The incident though in many respects captured the mood of the morning. Of course, there was a serious side. The Ulster players may have been on something of a road trip out west but their training session, conducted largely by former players, Jonny Bell and Neil Doak, was high on quality, high on intensity.
After an hour and half, finely tuned athletes including the likes of Andrew Trimble, Nick Williams, Roger Wilson, Luke Marshall, Mike McComish and Robbie Diack looked dead beat. Thereafter the mood lightened considerably and the 500 plus fans, including representatives from other sports, who turned up, mingled with the players, who seemed happy to sign autographs and have their picture taken with old and young alike.
For Wallace, one of the veterans of the squad, such trips to places like Strabane and Donegal – Ulster’s first port of call – are hugely important in recognising the loyal support of fans and the huge contribution by those involved at grassroots level.
“You can kinda forget sometimes that fans don’t just come from Belfast, they come from far and wide around Ulster,” said the centre.
“It was nice to get up to Donegal and to Strabane today. There’s been a wonderful turn out.
“It’s the fans who make Friday nights at Ravenhill so special and hopefully that will continue with the new development. Fingers crossed that will be completed by the end of this season and it will become even more special.
“Hopefully it will retain some of that old atmosphere. Yeah it’s a special place and that relationship with fans means we need to give them something to cheer when we do play a bit of rugby. They get behind us and we thrive off that.”