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Ulster 1999: Where are they now?

By Frank Brownlow

It was the greatest feat in Ulster’s rugby history — achieved by a squad made up of a mixture of full time and part time players.

And it is a similar story for those same players today, with some of the class of ‘99 involved in the game professionally, while others take part at amateur level or watch the game for pleasure.

Rugby has been transformed in the 10 years since Ulster’s triumph.

Now the top echelons of the sport are 100 per cent professional — never again will a team with so few full timers win the big prizes.

Some might say rugby is poorer for that, but time moves on and Ulster Rugby has moved with the times.

It has been a difficult transition for Ulster, but under coach Matt Williams there are signs that soon the Ravenhill outfit might once again be in a position to compete with the big beasts of European rugby.

The 1999 team set the standard for today’s players and that European Cup triumph means that expectations in this part of the world will always be high.

Ulster’s 1999 success is a hard act to follow.

But it removed the boundaries and showed that anything is possible.

And here is a look at the men who made it happen.

SIMON MASON (Full back): Landed six penalties out of six to steer Ulster to their historic victory, taking his personal points tally in the tournament to 144.

Retired last year after suffering a broken leg playing for English side Caldy following spells with Stade Francais and Treviso as well as a player coach role at Orrell. Now teaching at his old school in Liverpool, St Anselms College, and Director of Rugby for Alsemians in South Lancs/Chesire League.

SHELDON COULTER (Wing): A solid performance in which he constantly put his opposite number under pressure, forcing several mistakes in the process.

Left Ulster at end of 2002/3 season, turning out for Belfast Harlequins and CIYMS. Currently playing for Portadown and working as a financial advisor for Don Robinson Financial Services.

JAN CUNNINGHAM (centre): Performed superbly alongside Jonathan Bell in the centre before being forced off at half time by injury.

Played for Ulster to end of 2002/3 season before captaining Dungannon. Solicitor specialising in employment law with Millar McCall Wylie.

JONATHAN BELL (centre): Beat fierce Ulster competition to take man of the match award thanks largely to his fierce tackling which rocked the French back on their heels.

Despite a series of injuries, played for Ulster to end of 2004/5 season. Completed PGCE and taught at Campbell College before becoming Elite Player Development Officer at the Ulster Rugby Academy. Also coaches at Dungannon.

ANDY PARK (wing): Excellent defensive performance, putting his opposite number under constant pressure, complementing that of Coulter on the opposite flank.

Left Ulster in 2000 and played for Belfast Harlequins. Runs advertising agency INC Advertising.

DAVID HUMPHREYS (outside half): Faultless display of positional kicking which helped create Mason’s penalty opportunities thus providing the platform for Ulster’s victory.

Retired as an Ulster player at end of last season after over a decade of service. Became Operations Director of Ulster Rugby last June.

ANDY MATCHETT (scrum half): Top notch demonstration throughout the game of how to pass the ball. Provided excellent service to Humphreys.

After Ulster, went on to play for Belfast Harlequins. Works in the insurance sector for Clerical Medical.

JUSTIN FITZPATRICK (prop): Outstanding play in the loose and solid contribution to Ulster’s cause in the scrum.

One of two of the ‘99 team still playing for Ulster, returning to the fold in 2005 after a two year spell with French side Castres.

ALLEN CLARKE (hooker): Great play in the loose, accompanied by accurate throwing. Also took a crucial strike against the head at a pivotal stage in the match.

Playing career ended prematurely by an ankle injury, he served the Ulster Rugby Academy as Elite Player Development Manager before becoming assistant coach to Mark McCall in 2004. High Performance Manager of the IRFU since 2007.

RAB IRWIN (prop): Faultless scrummaging the highlight of a very solid performance and unlucky to be replaced nine minutes from time.

After Ulster, played for CIYMS and still turns out for Ards. Self employed builder.

MARK BLAIR (second row): Demonstrated his obvious quality throughout the game with a solid all round contribution.

Moved to French side Narbonne at end of 2002/3 season before signing for Scottish outfit Borders. Retired from playing and now works in building trade in Scotland.

GARY LONGWELL (second row): Battling performance with top class display both in the line-out and the loose.

Established himself as an Ireland international after the ‘99 success, winning 152 Ulster ‘caps’ in the process. Retired at end of 2004/5 season and now High Performance Manager for the Ulster Rugby Academy.

STEPHEN McKINTY (blindside flanker): A great demonstration of tackling, worked hard round the fringes and gave Ulster options at the back of the line-out.

Missed victory celebrations back in Belfast due to work commitments with engineering firm FG Wilson! Played for Bangor after Ulster.

ANDY WARD (openside flanker): Made numerous key tackles despite sustaining a knee injury early on which had to be heavily strapped.

Dashed from the field during the quarter-final win over Toulouse at Ravenhill to attend birth of his first child. Retired from a glittering Ulster career at end of 2004/5 season. Played for and coached Belfast Harlequins. Currently playing for Ballynahinch and running his own gym in the town, Andy Ward Leisure.

TONY McWHIRTER (no 8): His ability to make ground before feeding the ball back was a major factor in Ulster’s victory.

Played for Ulster until retiring in 2004 due to a hand injury. A dentist in Ballymoney, he coaches at Dalriada School.

STANLEY McDOWELL (replacement): Made some big tackles after entering the fray as a second half replacement for the injured Jan Cunningham.

Played for Ballymena and CIYMS. Coached at CIYMS and Ards. Worked as estate agent and media pundit.

DEREK TOPPING (replacement): Heavily involved after coming on for number eight Tony McWhirter nine minutes from time.

Captained Ballymena until injury forced his retirement. Works as a medical rep.

GARY LESLIE (replacement): An able replacement for prop Rab Irwin nine minutes from the end.

Played for Dungannon. Has also served as club president and is club representative on the IRFU Ulster Branch committee. Works at Moy Park.

BRYN CUNNINGHAM (squad): Youngster at time of ‘99 final, he is still playing for Ulster with over 140 ‘caps’ to his credit.

RITCHIE WEIR (squad): Went on to play for Belfast Harlequins and Cooke.

STEWART DUNCAN (squad): Played for Malone up until end of 2002/3 season and still actively involved with the club. Works for plumbing supplies company Beggs and Partners in Belfast.

STEPHEN BELL (squad): After Ulster, played for Bedford before becoming player/coach of Cambridge RFC. Now personal fitness trainer based in Belfast.

MARK McCALL (injured): Ulster captain missed the big day through injury which later brought his playing days to an end. Became Ulster coach in 2004, winning Celtic League. Now on Jeremy Davidson’s coaching staff at Castres.

Belfast Telegraph


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