ULSTER 23-7 CONNACHT 23.12.2016

Last night, I headed to Ravenhill for my annual Rugby match, as Ulster took on Connacht.

I usually make it a European game, but the scheduling has conspired against me. The home match against Exeter was on a Saturday night, but it was also the same day as one of Linfield’s longer away games. It was doable, but there was too much that could have went wrong, and it would have meant a Burger Van Dinner.

The home match against Clermont a few weeks ago was on a Saturday lunchtime. Sorry lads, but Linfield take priority, especially when there is an away trip to Bangor that day.

The game against Bordaux next month looks set to be a dead rubber. That too has been moved to a Saturday lunchtime. I’ll be at Linfield v Ballymena.

It’s almost as if they want to keep me away from Ravenhill. Is it because Ulster have lost the last two times i’ve been to Ravenhill?

My last visit, was an agonising one point defeat to Scarlets in February. For that match, I got a free ticket as part of promotion for Random Acts Of Kindness Day. That falls on February 17th, the day before Ulster are at home to Glasgow, a Saturday when Linfield don’t play. Just dropping a hint there. I love getting free stuff.

So, I decided to pick a league match, and a Friday night game against the defending champions when I am on my Christmas Holidays looked like a good option.

For this match, I was in the Family Terrace, my first time in there. It wasn’t too crowded and I wasn’t having to constantly let people in and out, which was a nice bonus.

The game was publicised as being sold out, but I could see a lot of empty seats from where I was.

Not a lot happened in the early stages of the game. That was, until Paddy Jackson converted a penalty on 19 minutes to put Ulster 3-0 up.

On 27 minutes, Ulster’s first real moment of quality in attack saw Stuart McCloskey have a clear run to get a try at the corner. During the whole move, it was just a matter of who was going to score. The resulting conversion from Paddy Jackson gave Ulster a 10-0 lead.

Connacht were offering nothing going forward, and when they did, there was an Ulster wall blocking their way. Another penalty from Paddy Jackson gave Ulster a 13-0 lead. It was anything but unlucky for Connacht.

On 53 minutes, a Clive Ross try converted by Jackson made it 20-0 to Ulster. As Connacht hadn’t looked like scoring all game, a dramatic comeback looked unlikely, it was almost game won for Ulster.

There would be no clean sheet as a Jack Carty converted try made it 20-7. 13 points was still a lot to climb back, but Ulster still had to keep their senses and stop Connacht from getting back into the game.

Any hopes of a comeback were soon dashed when another Jackson penalty made it 23-7.

Ulster were comfortable winners. So comfortable, a lot of people left early knowing the points were secured, leading to a slightly subdued atmosphere at full time.

Ulster are now in 5th, as they aim to get into the Play-Offs, the final in 2017 will be at Lansdowne Road.

Undecided wether to go to this. The game is on the last Saturday in May. That is Football Programme Fair day, and the FA Cup Final.

I went in 2015 and got my tickets once United’s fate that season was confirmed in March. With a likely teatime kick-off, it’s possible to do both the fair and the match. I’ll wait and see.

Meanwhile, Newcastle has been shortlisted as a host city for the 2018 European Champions Cup Final. This would be very tempting for a number of reasons. I haven’t been to Newcastle since 1994 so a return visit is overdue, I could get to visit The Back Page, and then make it a double header on the Sunday by seeing Sunderland or Middlesbrough if they are both still in the Premier League and one of them is at home.

Photo Album

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2016 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

February began for me seeing Linfield beating Dungannon Swifts 6-0, a good start to the month.

The following weekend, I was on the road to Shamrock Park, to see Linfield lose 2-1.

Back on the road the following weekend, this time to Coleraine, with a better result, with Linfield coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

The next day, I made the most of a free ticket to see Ulster take on Scarlets. Unfortunately, the game ended up in an agonising one point defeat for Ulster.

Two days after that I headed to The Limelight to see Foxes in concert.

The month ended with me heading to Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Glenavon, a match that saw an outfield player go in goal and save a penalty.

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Portadown v Linfield

Coleraine v Linfield

Ulster v Scarlets

Ulster v Scarlets Photo Album

Foxes live at The Limelight

Foxes live at The Limelight Photo Album

Linfield v Glenavon

ULSTER 20-21 SCARLETS 21.2.2016

Made the most of a free ticket this afternoon to head to Ravenhill to see Ulster take on Scarlets in the Pro 12. The tickets were given out last Wednesday in the Tourist Information Centre in Belfast as part of Random Acts of Kindness Day.

It was random and very kind, and I was more than happy to take advantage of it. It was part of a goodie bag, which also included a scarf and a calendar.

I was behind the goal at the Memorial End. The last time I was there, I vowed never to stand behind the goal at Ravenhill again, due to being packed in like sardines, especially bad at that end.

Today, wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t the biggest crowd at Ravenhill this season, the number of empty seats were noticable, and I enjoyed the novelty of having room around me when watching the game. That would probably explain why tickets were being given away for this game.

Ulster got off to a slow start, and Scarlets weren’t slow in exploiting it, Michael Collins scoring a try on 5 minutes. Thankfully for Ulster, the conversion was missed.

To give an idea of how bad the opening minutes were for Ulster, the loudest cheer from the home fans came when Peter Edwards of Scarlets required a change of shorts, and had to do so in front of the whole crowd, to cries of derision.

On 15 minutes, Aled Thomas made it 8-0 with a penalty, and it looked like Scarlets were going to run away.

A game can change very quickly, with a drop goal and a converted try putting Ulster into a 10-8 lead. The try came courtesy of Craig Gilroy, Mr February in my free calendar, and the other 5 points coming from Paddy Jackson.

Before Ulster could get settled into their lead, Scarlets immediately snatched it back with another try from Michael Collins. This time, the try was converted, giving Scarlets a 15-10 lead.

As the half headed towards it’s end, Ulster regained the initiative, with another converted try, to give them a half-time lead of 17-15.

Or so they thought, as there was enough time for a Scarlets penalty, which was missed, hitting the crossbar.

Ironically, there was a Crossbar Challenge on the pitch before the match, with nobody winning. I don’t think Aled Thomas was in the mood for claiming a prize.

After all that, Ulster would have their half-time lead, albeit a very slim one.

Thomas would have more joy in the early moments of the second-half to give Scarlets a 18-17 lead.

This was always going to be a game that would be decided by a point. Scarlets were now on the right side of that point.

Both teams then exchanged penalties, Scarlets going 21-17 in front before being pulled back to 21-20. Again, just a point in it, but Scarlets on the right side of that point.

Ulster spent the final minutes trying to get a winning point. Even a drop goal would have been enough. The problem was, they face a brick wall of Scarlets players.

As the clock hit 80 minutes, Scarlets kicked for touch to end the game, it looked like there was an opportunity for Ulster to keep the ball in possession and launch one last attack.

The ball was kept in play, but then bounced out of play. It was close, but ultimately agonising. It summed up the game.

Photo Album

ULSTER 9-27 SARACENS 20.11.2015

Friday night saw me make my annual trip to Ravenhill for a European group game, as Ulster kicked-off their campaign against Saracens, a week later than expected, with their opening game away to Oyonnax being postponed last week due to the terror attacks in France.

Ulster fans arrived hoping their side would warm them up inside, with rain, rain and more rain greeting supporters as they entered the ground.

Within the opening five minutes, the game had it’s first talking point, when Michael Rhodes was yellow carded for a wild tackle. There were many who thought it should have been a straight red.

Ruan Pienaar was unable to convert the resulting penalty. Within minutes, Owen Farrell followed suit by missing a penalty.

Ulster would soon find themselves going into a 9-0 lead courtesy of Paddy Jackson, who scored two drop goals and a penalty. Everything seemed well with the world, as Ulster were two tries ahead.

Saracens got one of those tries when Chris Wyles ran through. Owen Farrell’s rotten evening continued when he missed the conversion.

Ulster’s convincing lead had evaporated, the game was up for grabs, as Ulster led 9-5 at the break.

The start to the second-half was tense, as Ulster were forced to defend. A lot.

I was at the end Ulster were attacking. I say “were”, the correct term should probably be “Supposed to be”, as they simply couldn’t get out of their own half.

They were stuck in their half so much, people around me were watching the game on the giant screen beside them instead of watching the game live in order to get a better view.

A try for Saracens was inevitible, and so it proved when David Goode ran through. Owen Farrell had an upturn in fortune when he scored the conversion.

Saracens started to run away with it, and another try making it 17-9. Ulster now needed a converted try to take the lead. They didn’t look like getting one of those, never mind both. The crowd knew it, and the atmosphere became subdued as a result.

Owen Farrell made up for his poor kicking earlier on by making it 20-9, the gap was now getting bigger and bigger for Saracens, before another try was converted to make it 27-9.

22 points without reply in the second-half for Saracens, it was comprehensive. Ulster fans felt as miserable as the weather, as their side have a lot of ground to make up if they want to join the round ball Ulstermen in planning trips to France next Summer.

Photo Album

GLASGOW WARRIORS 31-13 MUNSTER 30.5.2015

Glasgow and Munster fans invaded Belfast on Saturday to see their sides battle it out for the Pro 12 title, the first season the competition decider was to be played in a venue decided in advance of the final.

It was a neutral venue, though Ulster fans were hoping it would turn out to be a home game for them, but a defeat to Glasgow the previous weekend put and end to those dreams.

Even though it was a neutral venue, it felt like a home game for Munster, with the vast majority of the crowd dressed in red to cheer them on, with small pockets of sky blue around the stadium.

I say sky blue, the sky in Belfast was anything but blue.

Glasgow weren’t intimidated, and put Munster on the back foot from kick-off, but it was Munster who had the first scoring opportunity of the game with a penalty that was fire wide.

Eventually, Glasgow made their dominance count and went in front with a converted try, and then withstood Munster’s response, only conceding a penalty, before responding in style with two converted tries to lead 21-3. Glasgow were running away with it.

Before half-time, Munster got themselves a try. It took a while for it to be confirmed, with the crowd booing as referee Nigel Owens had to refer to the TMO and took a while making his mind up.

Munster started the second-half with a penalty that reduced the defecit to eight points, before Glasgow dusted themselves off and responded with another converted try to make it 28-13.

Munster now had to score double what they had scored so far to still be in the game.

It was never going to happen. Glasgow were able to withstand what was thrown at them. Munster didn’t have as much resistance when Glasgow attacked.

As the minutes ticked down, Glasgow fans began playing celebratory songs on the bagpipes. They dared to believe the job was done. Nobody was going to argue with them. They added another score to make it 31-13. It was emphatic. It was deserved.

Photo Album

2014 IN PICTURES – DECEMBER (SO FAR)

December 2014 was mostly about concerts and football matches.

The first of which, was Foxes at The Limelight. Then the next day, I was off to Ballymena to see Ballymena v Linfield, then straight to Ravenhill for Ulster v Scarlets.

Next up, was Kasabian at The Odyssey, supported by The Maccabees.

Back to football, then it was Windsor Park for me for Linfield v Ballinamallard United, before later that night, heading to The Limelight to see Embrace in concert.

Two days later, my last concert of the year, Madness at The Odyssey, before last weekend, seeing Linfield win a thrilling match against Portadown.

There’s still a week left of the year, so still time for more photos.

Here’s to more photos in 2015.

Foxes Live At The Limelight

Foxes Live At The Limelight Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

Ulster v Scarlets

Ulster v Scarlets Photo Album

The Maccabees Live At The Odyssey

The Maccabees Live At The Odyssey Photo Album

Kasabian Live At The Odyssey

Kasabian Live At The Odyssey Photo Album

Linfield v Ballinamallard United

Embrace Live At The Limelight

Embrace Live At The Limelight Photo Album

Madness Live At The Odyssey

Madness Live At The Odyssey Photo Album

Linfield v Portadown

ULSTER 24-9 SCARLETS 6.12.2014

On Saturday night, I ventured to Raven Kingspan Stadium for my annual European game. Given Ulster’s start to the campaign, there might not be any knockout games to try and scramble to get a ticket for come April.

Ulster started slowly and were 3-0 down through an early penalty for Scarlets, before missing two of their own. The crowd were nervous.

For a change from recent games, I was at the side of the pitch, at the terracing at Mount Merrion. A far more enjoyable experience than being behind the goal, as you don’t get squashed in. I still don’t understand why Rugby fans enjoy walking up and down and back and forth during the game. Bloody nuisance when you’re trying to watch the game and people are walking in your road.

And don’t even start me on the people who walk really slowly and block your path because they don’t want to spill their beer, which is in a robust carrier with a lid on it.

Ulster soon regains their composure and two quick converted tries saw them open up a 14-6 lead. It could have been more, such was the dominance.

A penalty early in the second-half for Scarlets got them back into it, only a try away, but a try from Tommy Bowe made it 19-9.

Ulster search for that try that would give them a bonus point, which they got, and everybody went home happy.

Suddenly, there’s still a bit of life in this European campaign for Ulster.

Photo Album

2014 IN PICTURES – JANUARY

As the year is coming to an end, it’s time to have a look back. I took a lot of photos, and here are some of my favourite photos.

The year was supposed to start for me watching Linfield take on Glenavon. Unfortunately, that match was postponed, so I had to wait a further three days for my first football match of the year.

That came, at Warrenpoint, a first visit there, to see Linfield come from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

The following weekend, it was all about the oval ball as I headed to Ravenhill to see Ulster take on Montpellier.

Anyway, back to football, and the month’s fixtures sent me to Ballymena, to see Linfield come from behind to win.

January wasn’t all about Football and Rugby, there was even a concert, Hugh Cornwell at the Black Box.

Warrenpoint v Linfield

Ulster v Montpellier

Ulster v Montpellier Photo Album

Linfield v Crusaders/Ballymena United v Linfield

Hugh Cornwell Live At The Black Box

Hugh Cornwell Live At The Black Box Photo Album

ULSTER 27-16 MONTPELLIER 10.1.2014

The first Heineken Cup action of 2014, as Ulster looked to secure a win that would help their chances of getting to the knockout stages of the competition for the 4th successive season.

Montpellier started off the better team, and quietened the crowd, going into an early 3-0 lead.

Ulster struggled and struggled, but looked devoid of inspiration. Eventually, a try came out of nowhere, and the mood lifted. Another one came soon after, and it looked like Ulster were going to run away with it.

Montpellier, however, stuck at it, and always managed to get themselves to within a converted try of Ulster not long after Ulster looked to be putting some distance between the teams.

Ulster never looked like losing, but they had to dig in more than they wanted to, meaning qualification will come down to next Saturday’s game at Leicester.

Hopefully, Ulster can do the business, and do enough to get a home Quarter-Final. The continuing redevelopment of Ravenhill is going at an impressive pace.

Was behind the goal at Memorial End. To be honest, I think i’ll try to avoid that (only tickets for that end were available) in future, as it was an organisational shambles.

Too many people in there, and best of all, stewards telling people to move to let more people in, then telling off the same person for standing in the aisle because they’ve moved to let someone in beside them. Bit of a pain in the arse when you’re trying to watch the game and constantly having to move and having your view blocked by people moving. Think i’ll avoid that in future.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, here’s to (hopefully) a home Quarter-Final in the warmer months.

Photo Album

2013 IN PICTURES – OCTOBER

October began for me with a trip to Mourneview Park, to see Linfield take on Glenavon, one of the early season pacesetters.

It was a good day all round …… Linfield won, other results saw them go top of the league, and it stayed dry and I got some nice photos.

Enthused by that performance, I headed to The Oval three days later for a League Cup tie …….. and my enthusiasm was soon gone.

An awful game, an awful performance by Linfield, the only positive was that they won the tie on penalties.

Later that week, I went to my usual Ulster European game, against Leicester Tigers, getting a chance to see the redeveloped, but not yet finished, Ravenhill. It’s very impressive. Looking forward to visiting when it’s completely done.

The next day, I went to see Linfield have a routine win over Dungannon Swifts.

Meanwhile, the day after that, I was out and about in Belfast getting photos of Street Art.

The following Saturday, I was at Windsor Park for the match between Linfield and Crusaders. It was a 0-0 draw. Not an awful 0-0 draw, but not a lot of photo opportunities.

My only concert of the month, saw me see Primal Scream at The Limelight.

Two days later, I headed to Ballymena for the first time since January 2012 to see Linfield win 4-1 in four seasons in 90 minutes.

My final photo adventure of the month, was to get some satirical anti Barack Obama stencils which had appeared in Belfast recently.

Glenavon v Linfield

Glentoran v Linfield

Ulster v Leicester Tigers

Ulster v Leicester Tigers Photo Album

Linfield v Dungannon Swifts

Anyfin Is Possible

Linfield v Crusaders

Primal Scream Live At The Limelight

Primal Scream Live At The Limelight Photo Album

Ballymena United v Linfield

I See You