The great and the good of Ulster Rugby were at Belfast's Culloden Hote for the Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards Dinner.
Stephen Ferris - the Ireland and Lions flanker - received a standing ovation from the 300-plus guests in recognition of a remarkable comeback from injury which, a year ago, had threatened to end his career.
Against all the odds, Ferris returned from yet more knee surgery and having only just managed to win his race to be ready for last autumn’s World Cup, he starred for Ireland in New Zealand.
And he has shone in the white of Ulster, too, witness three man of the match performances to date in his province’s march to the Heineken Cup final date with Leinster at Twickenham on May 19.
Remarkably, Ferris appears to have emerged even faster, fitter and stronger than before.
It was a great night for Ulster’s first-choice back-row trio, with Pedrie Wannenburg and Chris Henry winning the other two big prizes.
Wannenburg, scooped the prestigious Ulster Ruby Supporters’ Club Player of the Season award — a fitting farewell gift for the outstanding South African whose last appearance in the white jersey will be at Twickenham next weekend. He received a magnificent trophy designed by local artist and URSC member Bob Sloan, and a Frederique Constant watch supplied by McNeilly’s Jewellers.
Henry was a hugely popular winner of the Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year Award in recognition of his consistently good and wholly reliable performances at openside.
Ulster wing sensation, Craig Gilroy, is the Vodafone Young Ulster Player of the Year, with his sensational Heineken Cup quarter-final try against Munster at Thomond Park having helped him hand off co-challengers Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson.
Ballymoney RFC’s Ulster Youth second row star, Russell Blair, walked off with the Calor Gas Ulster Youth Player of the Year accolade.
Another youth-level winner was Methodist College prop James Harrison who was named the Ulster Schools’ Player of the Year.
And teenage centre Chris Farrell — who faced Leinster and Munster in the PRO12 — won the Phoenix Gas Ulster Academy Player of the Year Award.
Malone are the Club of the Year — the reward for their results through the ranks.
Paul Marshall is the Belfast Telegraph Most Improved Ulster Player of the Year, while John Wilson — chair of the Ulster Schools’ Committee — lifted the Perennials-sponsored Dorrington B Faulkner Award.
And Belfast Harlequins’ Richard Lutton took the Ken Goodall Award for Outstanding Club Player of the Year.
Calor Gas Youth Player of the Year — Russell Blair |(Ballymoney RFC)
Ulster Branch Schools’ Player of the Year — James Harrison (Methodist College)
Phoenix Gas Academy Player of the Year — Chris Farrell
UPSC Player of the Season |(as voted by URSC members) — Pedrie Wannenburg
Belfast Telegraph Most |Improved Ulster Player of the Year — Paul Marshall
Kukri Club of the Year — |Malone RFC
Perennials’ Dorrington B. |Faulkner ‘Unsung Hero’ - John Wilson
Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year — Chris Henry
Ken Goodall Award for the |Outstanding Club Player of the Year — Richard Lutton (Belfast Harlequins RFC)
Vodafone Young Ulster Player of the Year — Craig Gilroy
Heineken Ulster Rugby |Personality of the Year — Stephen Ferris
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