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Lions reunited at Bangor bash

By Niall Crozier

It’s going to be like the good old days tomorrow for members and guests of Bangor RFC.

With this being the club’s 125th anniversary, tomorrow afternoon at Upritchard Park present-day Bangor will face an ensemble of Ulster players who won the European Cup in 1999.

That will be followed by dinner at the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel where the guest of honour is Sir Ian McGeechan.

The two most significant links in the chain binding all of these celebratory ingredients together are Harry Williams, this season’s Bangor RFC President who was coach when Ulster conquered Europe, and Dick Milliken, the former Bangor, Ulster, Ireland and Lions centre who played in all four Tests of the Willie John McBride-skippered 1974 Invincibles’ South African tour on which his midfield partner was McGeechan.

Milliken — the first Bangor player to be capped by Ireland — assisted Williams with last season’s coaching. This year, however, the 60-year-old former Lion has spent his rugby-related time watching Bangor, Ulster and Ireland.

“I still watch rugby very closely, though right now I’m going through a real crazy-about-golf phase,” said the semi-retired chartered accountant who plays off nine. One of those he faces regularly at Royal Belfast is Mike Gibson.

“We analyse the rugby scene in depth over those four-foot putts. We talk about the Ulster team quite a lot, particularly the up and coming young backs we rate — the Nevin Spences, the Luke Marshalls, Paddy Jackson who looks a cracker and Craig Gilroy,” he said.

“I know Craig because when he was at Methody he played four matches for us at Bangor at the end of the season and it was so obvious that he was very, very good.

“So I’m pretty excited by all these young guys coming through. I’d say Ulster are pretty close to being serious contenders now, so I’d be pretty confident about their prospects.”

Having played at a time when there was a healthy work-play balance, he is not envious of today’s young professionals.

“If you look at something like a Lions tour, we were training every day so we had a real insight as to what it would be like to be a professional player. I really enjoyed it, I have to admit,” he said.

“But I just worry sometimes about the guys now. I stopped playing when I was 24 because of a broken ankle, but what about some young guy who’s only 25, 26, really going well and then gets a bad injury? How do they pick up their lives?

“I’d worry a little bit, too, about guys coming into their early 30s who have been on good money and then their careers are over. Rugby can’t mop them all up, as it were.

“How prepared are they going to be? It’s great while it lasts, but what happens when it’s over?”

Meanwhile he is looking forward to welcoming his long-time friend this weekend.

“While Ian wouldn’t describe himself as a fantastic after-dinner speaker, he is very interesting when he’s talking about rugby,” Milliken said.

“Tyrone Howe will be interviewing him on Friday night and that’s a much better way of finding out what he thinks of Ireland, how good are England, who he thinks will win the World Cup and so forth. That will be fascinating.

“What he has to say will be of great interest to guys who like rugby. Ian’s a rugby man through and through; he still loves getting a tracksuit on and working with players.

“I was with him at Bath back in September and I saw him spend 20 minutes with Shontayne Hape, teaching him how to pass. You know, all these Rugby League guys spin the ball, but the idea of a pop pass or a soft pass is a new concept to them so Ian just loved being able to teach him that.”

Should be quite a day — and night — for Bangor.

Belfast Telegraph

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