Alan O’Connor and Marcus Rea are the latest Ulster senior players to sign on the dotted line to stay with the province for the upcoming seasons.
No stranger to captaining the Ulstermen, the 30-year-old O’Connor is a player who graces almost every team sheet, with 450 minutes under his belt already this season.
Named the United Rugby Championship’s Tackle Machine last season with 195 tackles at a success rate of 97.5%, this stat-topping player leads by example.
A graduate of the Ulster Rugby Academy, the Dublin-born lock has 163 caps for the province, and was voted Ulster’s Player of the Year for the 2020/21 season, given his continued hard work in the engine room.
On staying with the province he has called home for the past decade, and has captained to landmark wins including against his native Leinster last November, O’Connor, said: “I’m delighted to sign on for another couple of seasons. It’s a brilliant group of lads, and a great place to be.”
Meanwhile, his team-mate, Marcus Rea, kicked-off his Senior career back in 2018 with a win over provincial rivals Leinster, in a player-of-the-match performance that saw him score a try in the 14-13 victory at Kingspan Stadium.
Already racking-up the points this season, the former Ballymena Academy captain is now known not just for his ability to score tries but for his trademark turnover skills, both of which were on display during Ulster’s 55-point victory over the Scarlets in round 2 of the BKT United Rugby Championship.
After last season saw him make his first European start in a memorable victory over Clermont Auvergne on French soil, the back rower is excited for what the next few years hold for him at Ulster.
“I couldn’t see myself in any other jersey,” he admitted. “I love the environment, the people I work with, and the friends I have here. I am very happy to be staying at home.”
Speaking about securing two players who are set to continue to contribute significantly to Ulster in the seasons ahead, head coach Dan McFarland said: “Al is a player who epitomises the ‘every inch’ attitude that we want to bring onto the pitch for every game.
“He has led the team consistently in a way that embodies his own personal approach to his job, totally committed to winning and being the best we can be.
“Marcus has worked hard over the last two years to carve out a key role in our squad which sees him able to produce turnovers at critical times. He works hard both on and off the pitch, and has plenty more big moments in an Ulster jersey to come.”