Magners League: Stephen Ferris at full tilt for new Ulster glory quest
It has been an unusual pre-season for Stephen Ferris.
In the past his summer norm has been a tour followed by well deserved and much needed time out. Or surgery followed by rehabilitation. This time, though, he is fully rested, fit, ready and raring to go. Good — very good — news for Ulster.
“This is actually the first time I've been involved from day one in pre-season. Every other time I've been away somewhere or getting operated on, so it has been great to come in and get the buzz from the first whistle,” says Ferris, who clearly is delighted to have been part of the preparations for a change.
“There has been so much hard work done by all the boys.
“It's been a long pre-season for myself — 10 weeks. I was at a point before the Leeds game where I just wanted to get started because I'd done so much training.”
And then came words which will delight supporters of Ulster and Ireland as he forecasts this untypical pre-season “will be good for me”.
“I am feeling fit, fresh and injury-free and I am really looking forward to the competitive season starting,” the Ulster star added.
Evidently Ferris is in the mood and when that is the case you can expect to see fireworks from the Lions flanker.
There is a real positivity to him at this stage, too. As a result of having participated in that pre-season work he has had a chance to assess those alongside whom he will be playing this season.
He likes what he has seen.
“Expectation is good and that’s something Ulster have never really had over the last number of years,” he admits.
“It's always been (a case of others thinking) ‘There are a lot of young kids up in Ulster — let’s see what they can do this year’.
“But with the new signings and that bit of experience, hopefully that will push Ulster forward.”
He knows the Magners League will be a long, hard campaign.
He knows, too, that Ulster’s opening match against the defending champions will be a real test of their character and mettle.
“There are no easy games these days. Every team is so well drilled and the defences are so good that it's just tough game after tough game,” he said.
“This one will be no different.
“Everyone is expecting a massive performance from the Ospreys so we just have to match and better it,” is his assessment of Friday night’s opener.
He is not intimidated by Ospreys, however, their status as champions and the strength in depth of their star-studded squad nothwithstanding.
“Apart from last year's defeat we have a pretty good (home) record against the Ospreys. It's always a tight game between us,” he said.
“They are littered with international talent. But we are exactly the same this season with our new signings and all the boys in tip-top shape we're going to give any team a good run.”
Victory in last week’s match against Leeds sees Ulster go into their clash against Ospreys in just the right frame of mind.
Certainly Ferris is glad to have had a 40-minute work-out in that final friendly ahead of the real thing.
“The Leeds game was hard to get into because it was stop-start,” he says. “But I got a bit of the rust shaken off.”
And he ends on a positive note by adding: “Hopefully against the Ospreys I can carry on where I left off at the end of last season.”
If that is the case, it will be well worth seeing.