The annual Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards ceremony was held on Tuesday at the Culloden Hotel where second row Johann Muller scooped the top accolade of Heineken Personality of the Year, singled out for his work both on and off the pitch this season.
Over 320 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.
South African recruit Johann Muller was acknowledged as the Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year, following an excellent first season at Ravenhill.
Recruited for his playing and leadership ability, Muller, who arrived in Belfast from the Natal Sharks last summer, can take much of the credit for Ulster’s qualification for both the knockout stages in the Heineken Cup and Magners League.
Driving and demanding the highest of standards, he is a tremendous ambassador for Ulster Rugby, carrying out a large number of engagements for sponsors and within the local community, many in his own time.
Intelligent and good humoured, he has quickly become a firm favourite with staff, supporters and the media and he has the utmost respect from his team-mates and coaching staff.
The other award winners in full were as follows:
Calor Gas Ulster Youth Player of the Year – Conall Doherty (City of Derry RFC)
Conall has been involved with the Ulster Youth team for two years, culminating this year in being capped for the Ireland Youth team. He is an accomplished footballer, and has the ability to play anywhere from 10 to 15 in the backs.
He played most of the time at full-back and treated high balls with confidence, clearing his line with a solid left boot. He also gave the option of attack from deep.
Northern Bank Ulster Schools Player of the Year – John Creighton (Campbell College)
This season John captained not only his school, Campbell College, winners of the Northern Bank Schools Cup, but also the Ulster and Ireland Schools sides and as a leader he has displayed a tremendous capacity to bring players together as a team.
He has an excellent all around skillset but a particular strength is his passing game and be it at scrum half or out-half, he acts as a very effective link man between team units.
Phoenix Gas Ulster Academy Player of the Year – Craig Gilroy (Dungannon RFC)
Craig joined the Phoenix Ulster Academy at the start of the season and his outstanding form for Dungannon in the Ulster Bank League earned him his first start with the senior side against the Cardiff Blues in November.
It was a memorable debut for the youngster who scored two tries in Ulster’s 37-15 triumph in the Welsh capital. In an extremely competitive category, Craig’s ability to beat someone one-on-one, his strike rate and skill in making something out of nothing, single him out as the winner of this award.
Ulster Rugby Supporters Club Player of the Year – Johann Muller
Presented by the Ulster Rugby Supporters Club, this award is given to an Ulster player who has
had an outstanding season with the province.
Johann 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 – City of Armagh RFC
On hearing of the winner of this category it would be natural to assume that it has been achieved solely on the back of a very successful season by the first team who won Kukri Qualifying League Section 1, thereby securing promotion to the Ulster Bank League, and were runners-up in the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup.
However, this award is to recognise the achievements of the entire club as also represented by the success of the second team in winning Junior League 1 and the Crawford Cup.
The Armagh thirds finished second in Minor League South and were finalists in the Butler Shield. Meanwhile, the Under-15s were winners of the Central League.
Belfast Telegraph Most Improved Ulster Player of the Year – Adam D’Arcy
An unknown quantity at the start of the season when he arrived in Belfast from Australia on a two-week trial, Adam quickly nailed down a starting sport in the team and has improved throughout the season.
Excellent both defensively, where he is a safe pair of hands at the back, and in attack where his broken field running ability has created numerous chances for Ulster, the fact that he has recently accepted a two-year contract is testament to the impact he has made this season.
Dorrington B Faulkner Award sponsored by Perennials – Ronnie Clements (Limavady RFC)
Ronnie first played rugby for Limavady RFC in the mid 1950s while still attending Limavady Grammar School where he captained both the rugby and cricket teams.
On entering Stranmillis College in 1958 he continued to play for Limavady at the weekends as well as representing Kings Scholars in midweek. On returning home in 1961 he continued to play both rugby and cricket for the town teams and captained the rugby club for the 1965/66 campaign.
He also fulfilled the arduous duties of club Honorary Secretary from 1962 until the mid 1970s. On hanging up his rugby boots in 1979, he became the club’s representative on the Ulster Branch Clubs Committee and for an astonishing 31 years continued in that role until his retirement in April of this year.
Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year – Ruan Pienaar
From Bloemfontein to Belfast, Ruan surprised world rugby by joining Ulster last summer and has been instrumental in the team’s success this season. A match winner that exudes professionalism he is quick to share the credit for his final minute, match-winning kicks with his team-mates.
From his attitude in the gym through the mentoring role he plays with younger players to the quality of performance he delivers consistently each week, Ruan is a worthy winner of this coveted award.
Ken Goodall Award For Outstanding Club Player of the Year – Paul Pritchard (Ballymena RFC)
Back rower Paul was a major factor in Ballymena’s successful promotion to Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League this season. He was the club’s top try scorer and his high work-rate combined with dynamic tackling and ball carries also resulted in regular call-ups to the Ulster Ravens side.
Vodafone Young Ulster Player of the Year – Nevin Spence
Nevin got his chance as a result of international call-ups and injuries to Ulster’s more established centre partnerships but has quickly become one of the first names on the teamsheet each week.
With a very physical and direct style, the consistent level of his performances have marked him out this season. Despite having just turned 21 years of age, Nevin has shown he can mix it at the highest level of European rugby and a personal highlight will be a memorable try against Bath at the Rec in December.