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McKenzie has varied memories of Ravenhill

By Jonathan Bradley

The Towns Cup final may not have gone Donaghadee's way on Monday afternoon – they lost 15-7 to Clogher Valley in the showpiece conclusion to the junior rugby season – but the day marked a unique achievement by their player-coach.

Former Ulster back Paul McKenzie, already believed to be the first man to represent Ulster at every possible level, was returning to the stadium as a junior player for the first time.

McKenzie – who also had a spell in England with the Exeter Chiefs – first donned the white shirt of his native province when representing Ulster Schools and went on to be capped at under-19 and under-21 level before putting in a string of impressive performances for the A side – now known as the Ravens.

He made his debut for the senior team at the end of 2006 – going on to make 12 appearances, including two starts in the Heineken Cup – and, after returning from home from England, completed the set when he turned out for the Ulster Juniors at the end of last season following strong displays for Donaghadee.

After the disappointment of Monday's defeat, the centre cut an understandably frustrated figure but laughed as he recalled that perhaps the famous old stadium hasn't been overly kind to him over the years.

The 30-year-old Bangor man said: "I don't really have an awful lot of positive memories to choose from.

"It's always nice to get a run out here no matter what level it is but it would have been great to be able to get a win.

"I would say that my favourite memory is still my first start for the senior team. I had a game off the bench the week before but to make my first start was great.

"It was a terrible game really, a 6-6 draw I think, but it's a special moment."

Current Ulster stars Rory Best, Paddy Wallace and Roger Wilson also started that night, with Stephen Ferris coming off the bench, while Brian O'Driscoll donned his familiar number 13 jersey for the opposition.

And while he was not surrounded by quite such exalted company on Monday, McKenzie still could barely believe the transformation the stadium has undergone since his last outing at the south Belfast home of Ulster rugby.

He added: "It's an amazing place now that it's finished. It was great to have all our fans here and I can only imagine what it's like when it's full. It must be quite a cauldron for visiting teams to come in to and we're very lucky to have it."

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