It is with the utmost pleasure that I put pen to paper, or fingertip to keyboard, in the light of Ulster’s performance and victory over Stade Francais.
In my column last Wednesday, I challenged the players to grasp the opportunity to write their own little piece of Heineken Cup history. My goodness, how they took on that task in what was another memorable day for players and supporters alike.
Most headlines will probably focus in on those who made the most visible contributions, Ian Humphreys, Simon Danielli, Chris Henry and Stephen Ferris.
My own initial applause goes instead to the unsung heroes of the Ulster tight five. Stade Francais entered the game with a monster pack built for physicality.
The loss of BJ Botha cannot be understated, but together, Declan Fitzpatrick, Nigel Brady and Tom Court played with enormous resolve, and the former, in particular, deserves huge credit for the way in which he stood up to Rodrigo Roncero.
The line-out had been extremely poor only eight days earlier against Glasgow, but it too held its own. Along with the mostly unseen work that second rows perform in the tight exchanges, it was a tremendous performance from Ed O’Donoghue and Dan Tuohy.
Invariably, the front five set the platform for the rest of the team’s performance. On Saturday, they did their teammates proud as they set the tone for the unnerving physical way that Ulster, as a team, stood up to the Stade players.
A coach sometimes tries to communicate to the players the sort of effect their performances can have on supporters.
If the Ulster players who had the honour of pulling on that white shirt on Saturday ever wonder about the difference that they can make to the rest of our existences, well, all I can give you is my own personal reaction. However, I am confident that this mirrored the reactions of many others who witnessed the players’ efforts.
Your own reality somehow becomes suspended, because the action infiltrates your body and soul. It arrests your emotions. It infuses you with energy and it invigorates you.
This is because the players, through their actions, become an extension of your self. You are surprised at how much you care. But you do — in fact, you really care.
As the match enters the closing stages, you urge the players on with such zeal that nothing else seems to matter.
Victory is the perfect ending. And the net result of all this intense emotion? It makes you feel alive.
Can there be any better sensation than feeling that alive? You are proud to say – “that is MY team”.