Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Ulster rugby fan cycling to Twickenham for the Heineken Cup Final

Neil McConkey who has been following the Ulster Rugby Team on their Heineken Cup journey
Neil McConkey who has been following the Ulster Rugby Team on their Heineken Cup journey
Victoria Gibson and Claire Ogle from Dromore travel to the game on Saturday

A dedicated Ulster fan is aiming to raise £10,000 for charity by cycling to Twickenham for the Heineken Cup Final.

Neil McConkey has already cycled 700 miles to Limerick and Dublin and back this year to support the team in their quarter and semi-final clashes.

Now the 43-year-old former banker is getting on his bike again to travel to London ahead of the game against Leinster on May 19.

“I wanted to raise money for Sport Relief by supporting Ulster Rugby during this season’s Heineken Cup campaign, so I thought I could cycle and follow Ulster until it was over,” the father-of-two said.

“Initially I thought I might just have to cycle 215 miles to Limerick, but now that we’ve reached the final it will be closer to 1,200 miles by the time I’ve finished.

“That's the equivalent of cycling the length of Ireland three times.”

Neil said he was persuaded to act by his son, Jos, whose middle name is Mason, after the former Ulster player Simon Mason.

“I was watching Sport Relief with my son who told me I should do something because I’m not working at the minute,” he said.

“We’ve just moved back to Belfast from Jersey so I’m in between jobs and have some time on my hands which I might as well put to good use.”

The Limerick leg of the journey — taking in the match between Ulster and Munster on Easter Sunday — saw the Belfast man cover 470 miles, cycling nine hours a day for five days.

Biking to Dublin and back to watch the semi-final against Edinburgh on April 28 was a little shorter, at around 200 miles, but he said the weather was terrible throughout the return journey.

Starting the next phase of his fundraising campaign, he will make an overnight ferry crossing (donated by Stena Line) from Belfast to Liverpool on Tuesday, May 15.

His aim is to then cycle to London via Worcester and Oxford, which he said should take three days and get him to the game on time.

It’s not the first time Neil has gone cycle-mad for a charitable cause.

Four years ago, he took to the saddle with his brother-in-law John McKirgan and friend Stephen Galway in aid of breast cancer, raising £15,000.

So far, he has received around £2,000 in donations for Sport Relief, but he is hoping more people will contribute in the run-up to the cup final.

“I’m hoping to raise £10,000 in total, with part of that coming from a homecoming party that I’m intending to organise,” Neil said.

“If anyone out there has any donations that I could use as prizes for an auction-type event I would really appreciate it.

“Similarly, if anyone has a function room that I could use to host an event of some description that would help me out, too.”

Donations can be made online: https://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/neilmcc

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