The annual Ulster Rugby Awards Ceremony was held on Thursday evening at the La Mon Hotel in Belfast, and sponsored by Magners, Ulster Rugby’s Official Drinks Partner.
Guests gathered to celebrate the achievements and development of Ulster rugby at all levels, with the ceremony bringing together the cream of the crop in the province.
The event recognises the role school, youth, club and professional players, as well as their representative teams and clubs, play in the development of the game in Ulster.
The big winner of the night was Ulster back rower Chris Henry, who scooped three awards – the top accolade of Magners Personality of the Year, the Magners League Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year award and the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Outstanding Player of the Season award.
Rugby legend Dr Jack Kyle was also honoured on the night, becoming the first inductee into the Ulster Branch of the IRFU’s Hall of Fame.
The night’s award winners were as follows:
Magners Personality of the Year: Chris Henry
Magners League Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year: Chris Henry
Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Outstanding Player of the Season: Chris Henry
A big, ball-carrying back rower, Chris Henry has stepped up to captain Ulster this season, in place of the injured Rory Best, and also captained the Ireland Wolfhounds when they faced Scotland ‘A’ at Ravenhill.
Chris came through the Ulster Academy to make his senior debut for the province during the 2008/09 season. He has gone from strength to strength, representing his province 31 times to date and has become a cornerstone of the Ulster defence.
He has represented Ireland at Under-21, Sevens and ‘A’ level, and played his part in the Ireland ‘A’ side’s Churchill Cup success last summer.
He gained a call-up to the Ireland senior squad ahead of the autumn Tests, and this week was also named in the 33-man Irish squad to tour New Zealand and Australia in the coming weeks.
Despite a season filled with increasingly difficult personal circumstances and at times disappointing team results, Chris has remained his usual optimistic, cheerful self. This personality has brought a positive and determined style to his team leadership and has placed him at the heart of the Ulster side.
Ulster Youth Player of the Year (sponsored by Calor Gas): Jonathan Murphy (Banbridge RFC)
Over the past two years, Jonathan has developed into a very accomplished hooker. An accurate and dynamic ball carrier, he has been capped by the Ulster Under-18s over the last two seasons, captaining the side in an inspirational manner this season. Jonathan has also been a member of the Irish Youth team over the past two years.
Northern Bank Ulster Schools Player of the Year: Charlie Simpson (Ballymena Academy)
Full-back Charlie Simpson was a vital component in Ballymena Academy’s Ulster Schools Cup success this season. A confident and agile player, Charlie has also been capped at Under-18 Schools level for both Ulster and Ireland.
Phoenix Ulster Academy Player of the Year: Nevin Spence
A player of undoubted promise, the 20-year-old Nevin Spence has a swift and responsive style of play which allows him to play either as a winger or centre.
Nevin made his Ulster senior breakthrough this season, running out three times as part of the matchday 22, having secured an Ulster Development contract in January.
With an Under-20 Six Nations winners’ medal already in the bag from this year’s Championship, where he was one of Ireland’s most impressive players, this season has been a tremendous success for the young Ballynahinch clubman.
Kukri Club of the Year: Ballymoney RFC
Ballymoney is a club which appears to be on the up and up in all areas, from the first team to the newly established Women’s section. The highlight of the year for the club was winning the Powerade Towns Cup for the first time in their history.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd sides all finished a very respectable third in their respective leagues, while the fourth team won th Magners Minor League North and reached the finals of both the McCambley and Ravenhill Cups, and there were semi-final appearances for the thirds in the Forster Cup and the Under-17s in Youth Cup.
The U-17s also finished as runners-up in the Brewin Dolphin League, with the U-15 side claiming third spot in the Brewin Dolphin U-15 League.
Dorrington B Faulkner Award for Services to Rugby: Hal Burnison
Harold R Burnison joined Malone RFC in 1950, having represented RBAI in the Ulster Schools Cup final. Harold played his senior rugby at wing forward and is now the longest surviving past President of the Malone club, having served in the 1970/71 season when Malone won the Ulster Senior Cup.
Over all of those years, Harold has always been involved in some way in the management of the club, and as changes have taken place he has always made himself available to the ongoing executive and management of the club to assist in some capacity.
He became the Branch club’s committee representative in 1989/90, following Hugh Logan and Neil Jackson. He has served on the competition management committee since 1992 and rarely misses their frequent meetings.
Since 2000, Hal has chaired the international ticket allocation committee, a very onerous and responsible position which demands a high degree of time commitment, organisation and patience and a job in which it is impossible to please all of the people, all of the time.
Ken Goodall Award for Club Player of the Year (presented by City of Derry RFC): Mark Robinson (Queen’s University RFC)
As captain of the highly successful Queen’s University side, this very skilful and competitive back rower has most certainly led from the front this season. Mark has consistently put together man-of-the-match performances, most noticeably in the Ulster Senior Cup final.
Ulster Branch of the IRFU Hall of Fame Inductee (sponsored by the Belfast Telegraph): Dr Jack Kyle
The Belfast-born Jack Kyle, a legendary out-half who inspired generations of players, is still widely regarded as Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player.
Jack was the inspirational genius behind Ireland’s first Grand Slam triumph in 1948. Two years later, he also played in all six Tests for the Lions on their tour to New Zealand and Australia.
Off the field, Jack built a career as a skilled surgeon. He worked for many years as a consultant surgeon in Chingola, Zambia, and also undertook humanitarian work in Sumatra and Indonesia.
When he retired from International rugby in 1958, his total of 46 caps from 11 seasons, which yielded seven tries, was a world record. He remains the ultimate players’ player and Ireland’s most legendary number 10.
Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year: Andrew Trimble
Andrew’s natural strength and aggression mean he fears no one and relishes a challenge. He burst onto the Ulster scene in 2005, making his senior debut for Ireland the following November against Australia.
Still just 26, he has achieved 101 caps to date for Ulster and 27 for Ireland. An exciting back-line talent, he continues to delight the Ulster crowds with his agile footwork and ability to run with the ball and is equally as comfortable on the wing or at centre.
This season’s fantastic performances, including five tries for Ulster, earned Andrew a place in Ireland’s starting line-up for their Six Nations opener against Italy. He also recently picked up the IRUPA Try of the Year award for his stunning solo effort against Bath in the Heineken Cup in January.
Vodafone Ulster Young Player of the Year: Jamie Smith
This season has been Jamie Smith’s breakthrough year. The dynamic 22-year-old Ulster Academy full-back gained 11 senior squad caps this season after making his senior debut at Ravenhill in Ulster’s Heineken Cup success over Stade Francais.
A former Campbell College student and Ireland Under-19 international, Jamie’s game is based on speed, strength and some excellent footwork. His confidence under a high ball has seen him shine for both the Ulster senior side and the Ulster Ravens this season.
A Special Merit Award was also presented to retiring Ulster Branch Honorary Secretary, Joe Eagleson, for his nine years of service to the branch.