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Stephen Ferris always had X factor about him: Allen Clarke

By Michael Sadlier

"I can still remember the day at Jordanstown when I saw him taking part in the Under-18 club identification programme.

"I met his mum in the car park afterwards and I told her I thought that her son could go the whole way. He just had an X-factor and I felt he had just the right qualities for the way the game would evolve in the future."

Allen Clarke's hunch was certainly on the money and the now Ulster Elite Performance Development Manager clearly remembers his first encounter with Stephen Ferris from a decade or so ago and reckoned, from the off, that the former Friends' School pupil was destined to make his mark in the professional game.

"He had a meteoric rise," Clarke states. "But it has to be said that his work-rate went hand in hand with his talent.

"He never missed a training session," he recalls of Ferris' introduction to the Ulster Academy. "And this was while he was doing manual work.

"Stephen has been a tremendous ambassador for Ulster rugby and he was a world class player who became part of the Ulster team which won the Celtic League back in 2006 as well.

"He has achieved the highest honours in the game (Ireland and the Lions) but he has retired as a young man and that will grate with him.

"He always gave everything and tried everything to get back but he just couldn't perform to the required level and at least he has realised that which may give him some solace," Clarke (pictured) adds.

Former Ulster skipper Andy Ward was finishing up at Ravenhill just as Ferris was coming through, but the European Cup winner remembers encountering a young but still notably powerful version of the blindside flanker in a club game.

As Ward recalls: "I was playing for Ballynahinch against Dungannon and I picked up at the back of a scrum and got smashed by this young guy not long out of school I reckoned and I thought 'who the hell was that?'

"He rose to become a world class player and I think the Lions (in 2009) showed him as a true great even though his tour was ended early by injury.

"It's a real shame," added Ward. "He was just one of those special players and you knew anything could happen when he got involved."

Former Ulster player Bryn Cunningham stressed the great empathy he felt for Ferris over his year and a half battle to try and regain fitness which he only briefly managed at the tail end of this season.

"It's a sad day for him as he'd been pushing so hard to get back. He had a huge future and was really in his prime age wise but as I know myself when the body stops reacting you have no option but to stop," states Cunningham.

"I know he was very emotional when he had to accept that it was over and it's always a tough one when it finally does happen but hopefully his life will change for the better now and we'll (Cunningham works for the Esportif Ireland agency who represented Ferris as a player) be helping and guiding him.

"He'll be remembered as an explosive player who worked so hard and for those hits, runs and tries," says Cunningham.

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