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Ballymena Honour Ulster’s Lions Heritage

Ballymena Honour Ulster’s Lions Heritage

Many of Ulster and Irish rugby’s greatest ever players gathered together at Belfast City Hall last Friday to celebrate the proud heritage of Ulster players past and present who have been selected to play for one of the most famous touring sides of all-time, the British & Irish Lions.

The Ulster Lions Legends Gala Dinner, organised by Ballymena Rugby Football Club and sponsored by Arthur Cox, brought together eighteen of the 22 surviving Ulster players who have donned the famous red jersey.

Some of Irish rugby’s all-time legends, from the great Dr Jack Kyle, Dr Syd Millar and Willie John McBride to more recent players like Trevor Ringland and Tyrone Howe, were amongst the four hundred guests in attendance at Belfast City Hall.

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All proceeds from the event are being split between Ballymena RFC’s Youth Development Programme and the IRFU Charitable Trust.

Ballymena RFC stalwart and veteran of six Lions tours, Syd Millar, explained the reasoning behind the event, saying: “We at Ballymena Rugby Club thought it was important to mark the proud involvement of Ulster rugby players down the years who have gone on to represent the British & Irish Lions.

“Touring with the Lions is the biggest honour a player can achieve in his career. It is a huge privilege to be selected as part of a team that is made up of the best players the four home nations have to offer.

“There is something very special about putting together a squad of players, most of whom have never played together before, to take on one of the best sides in the world.

“It was important to us at the club to recognise that achievement and what better way to do so than to bring together as many of those players as possible to celebrate and reminisce about days gone by.”

With the success of both Ulster and Ireland in recent seasons, as well as growing excitement for Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, this proved to be the ideal time to celebrate Ulster’s Lions legends, with the event being sold out weeks before the evening itself.

Guests at the Gala Dinner enjoyed a fine three-course meal and relived some of the most memorable moments in Lions history.

Archived video footage was on hand to offer a sample of the many highlights through the years – from Jack Kyle’s dominance of the All Blacks in 1950 to Willie John McBride’s famous ’99’ call in South Africa in 1974.

In the afternoon, prior to the Gala Dinner, a ‘Sport to Business’ master class was held at Riddel Hall in Queen’s University.

This seminar saw some of the Lions legends demonstrate how they have been able to transfer the lessons learnt on the rugby pitch into other areas of life, most notably the business arena.

Speakers included Jack Kyle, Syd Millar, Dick Milliken, Willie John McBride and Trevor Ringland who gave presentations on a range of topics including, ‘Assembling a Board’, ‘Sport and Reconciliation’, and ‘The Art of Motivation.’

More than 200 members of the business community were present at the master class to soak up the wealth of knowledge and insight offered by some of the game’s greats.

Syd Millar spoke in depth about the many qualities in the rugby team and how that transfers to a board of directors, while Willie John McBride gave a fascinating glimpse into how his experience of motivating players in the changing room enabled him to get the most out of his colleagues in the work place.

Dr Millar concluded that the whole day had been a great success. “It has been great to mark the achievement of Ulster players, past and present, who have gone on to play rugby at the highest level,” he commented.

“The Gala Dinner was a fantastic opportunity to meet old friends and share stories from our escapades to the far corners of the globe. We may not be as athletic or as fit as we used to be, but the craic remains the same!

“All being well if the Ulster boys can continue to keep up the good work and maintain their current form we will be celebrating some more additions to the Lions squad for their trip to Australia next year.”

Related Links –

Ballymena RFC

IRFU Charitable Trust

British & Irish Lions