Ward looking to leave on a high
Published 25/04/2008 | 09:26
Tonight's First Trust Ulster Senior Cup final will represent an end of an era for Belfast Harlequins.
Former Ulster and Ireland flanker Andy Ward will step down as player/coach of the Belfast club after three years at the helm after the Ravenhill clash against Ballymena (kick-off 7.30pm).
Ward is set to take a step back from the coaching game to concentrate on his gym in Ballynahinch and his role as a prestige car salesman - as well as spend more time with his family.
"I haven't been able to spend much time with the kids," said Ward. "I have only being seeing them at breakfast, what with being at the club three nights a week as well as being away at the weekends.
"Zac (his son) was playing at half-time at Ravenhill in the mini-rugby game during the Connacht game and I wasn't able to get there to see him. He's actually not a bad wee rugby player!"
Harlequins' failure to clinch promotion back to Division One this season - they missed out by just one point - soured the campaign for the club.
But Ward hopes his side can prove they can compete with those team in the elite by coming what would be a Ulster Senior League and Cup double with victory over Ballymena tonight.
"I really enjoyed my time at Harlequins, the boys have been a great bunch to work with," he said.
"This year we beat ourselves as opposed to other teams beating us in the promotion race and that was the frustrating thing more than anything. We missed promotion by just one point and other than that it would have been the perfect season.
"I think the side are good enough to go up to the first division and hopefully they'll get to prove that tonight against Ballymena."
Ward, who learned a lot from former Ulster coach Alan Solomons during his time as Harlequins' rugby consultant over the last 18 months, has not turned his back on coaching altogether.
"Ultimately I would like to coach at a higher level," he added. " So I don't really want to be out of it for too long. You never know what's around the corner."
Ballymena however will be equally committed to finishing their season on a high following the disappointment of the 38-7 defeat to Dungannon in their final Division One match.
While Dungannon were fighting to retain their Division One status, Jacques Benades' side had long since made the cut but tonight there will be no sense of complacency with silverware on the line. Neither side are able to draw on their contracted players so both are fielding a number of changes.
BALLYMENA: M Banks; A Smyth, P Budina, C Brigl, B Mitchell; P Campbell, C Woods; A Kirkpatrick, M Harshaw, S Shawe, I Caldwell, D Best, A Cupples, D McKee, C Henry.
BELFAST HARLEQUINS: N Conlon, R Logan, C Voisey, G Rourke, N McComb, C Atkinson, A Ward, S Robinson; D Creighton, R Blake-Knox, W Slabbert, S Stewart, D Cave, G McLoughlin, K Pyper.