Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Ulster rugby fans going that extra mile to see Heineken Cup final

Ulster's Rory Best walks with his son after the Heineken Cup semi final match between Ulster and Edinburgh at Aviva Stadium, Dublin

How far do you have to go to prove your credentials as a loyal supporter of Ulster rugby?

This month, thousands of loyal fans are set to travel hundreds of miles across the water to see their side in action when Ulster take on Leinster in the Heineken Cup final which will be held at Twickenham stadium in London.

This has proved lucrative for airlines — but it will be something of a logistical nightmare for many fans unable or unwilling to pay over the odds on direct flights to get to the May 19 clash.

At Midas, an insurance underwriting firm based in Newtownards, employees are tweaking the final details of their trips.

David Balmer’s journey there should be easy enough. He hopes to fly from Belfast to Birmingham or Stansted in London two days before the big game — missing the hefty fees.

But the return journey is a different matter altogether. He has to be back in Belfast by Sunday (May 20), where he will join his parents for their 40th wedding anniversary celebrations.

Over a 12 hour period he intends to cover nearly 400 miles by car — as well as taking an early morning ferry trip from Wales to Dublin.

As Ulster fans raise their glasses in celebration or to drown their sorrows, David will set out from London to make the five-and-a-half-hour trip to Holyhead port in Wales — 290 miles away. He will board the ferry shortly after midnight on Sunday, spending three and a half hours at sea before the ship docks in Dublin.

From Dublin, he will drive up the motorway to join his family in his native Dundonald in east Belfast on Sunday morning.

“I know this sounds like it’s going to turn out a bit expensive, but going back direct was not affordable.

“Taking in accommodation and all the extras, the total probably would have been £700 or £800.

“I was there the last time we won. I have waited 13 years for this.”

He said he is not alone.

“Eight or nine guys from our office are flying into different airports within a 150-mile radius of London at different times,” he added.

David’s colleague, Alan Hunter (46), is also going the extra mile —but not for himself.

His son, Stephen (13), is a dedicated Ulster Rugby follower. He said: “A colleague is taking my son there. He is flying into East Midlands airport.”

On arrival at the airport on Saturday, the pair will travel 130 miles over nearly three hours to reach London.

Alan added: “The (flight) costs are horrendous — the cost from Belfast to London was (around) £400 for a flight both ways.”

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