Rugby legend Ward calls on Antrim to show Ulster spirit
Antrim strength and conditioning coach Andy Ward is calling on his squad to replicate the spirit that the Ulster rugby side has been showing in recent weeks when they embark on their Ulster Championship campaign later this month.
New Zealander Ward shared in Ulster’s historic 1999 Heineken Cup triumph and since he joined Liam Bradley’s management team at the start of this season the players have been taking a keen interest in Ulster’s progress.
Now that Brian McLaughlin’s side have set up a mouth-watering Heineken Cup final against Leinster at Twickenham on May 19, Ward wants Antrim to show their own brand of fighting spirit when they meet Monaghan in the second match of the provincial championship a week later.
“While we were disappointed not to gain promotion from Division Three of the league, the championship offers this Antrim side an opportunity to show their full potential,” says Ward.
“Even though we have to travel to face Monaghan, we are very upbeat and training is going well.
“We will obviously be looking on to see how Ulster fare against Leinster in the Heineken Final and it would be a terrific sporting boost for the province if they could win.”
Antrim swept to three consecutive victories at the start of the Allianz League before the wheels came off their promotion drive and they were left to occupy a mid-table position at the heels of the hunt.
Antrim skipper Aodhan Gallagher helps to coach rugby at Methodist College in Belfast where he is a teacher and is hoping that a double success might be on the cards later this month.
“It would be great if Ulster could win the Heineken Cup and we were to get into the provincial championship semi-final. Three years ago we reached the Ulster final only to fall to Tyrone,” says St Gall’s clubman Gallagher.
Michael Armstrong (knee) and Michael Magill (hamstring) are still doubtful for the clash with Monaghan.
However manager Liam Bradley has selection options. Indeed, four players — skipper Gallagher, Michael McCann, Conal Kelly and Conor Murray — are battling for the two midfield positions.
Tony Scullion, Justin Crozier and James Loughrey will form the half-back line.