Banbridge Rugby Club recently hosted a function to recognise the contribution made to Ulster and Irish rugby by Simon Best. The function, organised by Simon’s friends, was attended by many past and current Ulster and Ireland players, together with coaches who had been involved with Simon from his days playing mini rugby at Rifle Park to his representative career.
Michael (Raker) McClean was MC for the evening and he interviewed a number of Simon’s former coaches and friends. Bann’s Mini Rugby Convenor George MacCormac was first up to recall his memories of Simon’s early rugby days.
He was followed by Willie Gribben (Primary Schools), Keith Hannath (Portadown U-14s), Jack Mulligan (Portadown College), Keith Patton (Irish Schools), Andre Bester (Belfast Harlequins), Harry Williams (Ulster) and Alan Solomons (Ulster).
Simon Easterby (Ireland) and Leo Cullen (Ireland) recalled Simon’s career from a player’s perspective and brother Rory spoke of how beneficial it was for him to be able to draw on Simon’s experience as he followed him onto the Ulster and Ireland teams.
In responding, Simon thanked everyone for their attendance at what was a very special occasion for him. He made particular mention of the role played by the late Vinnie Doyle, his coach at Portadown College.
He said that Vinnie had constantly encouraged him to believe that he had the ability to play representative rugby and it was in no small way thanks to him that he had played the game at international level.
Simon said afterwards that he was delighted and grateful that so many had attended and he felt it was a very appropriate way to signal the end of his career as a professional player.
“I have been away from Rifle Park for a long time, but hopefully I can get involved with the club again and spend more time helping out,” he added.
“There were a few of my old mates here tonight, which was good. I hadn’t seen some of them in a long time so it was nice to catch up with them on the night.”
In the course of a playing career cut short for medical reasons, Simon played 118 times for Ulster and won 23 international caps.
He has already been appointed as the club’s representative on the Ulster Branch Committee for the incoming season, taking over from his father John, where he hopes to put his experience to good use.
A Charity Draw held on the night raised over £2,000, to be shared between MITRE (Musgrave Park) and the IRFU Charitable Trust, which provides support for players who have been seriously injured playing rugby.