The last Ulster captain to get his hands on a piece of silverware laughs at the thought of how the picture of him hoisting the Celtic League trophy still has pride of place in the corridors of what he knew as Ravenhill.
“Yeah, well it wasn’t meant to be me, was it?” chuckles Justin Harrison, captain of the province the day David Humphreys’ dramatic late drop goal beat the Ospreys to seal the 2006 title.
“Simon (Best) was the one that should have been lifting it, he was our captain. It was unfortunate for him breaking his ankle the week before. Whenever he put together one of the farewell montages for me when I was leaving a few years later, he’d included that picture but with his head superimposed over mine.”
While Wallaby international Harrison - who shot to fame in the deciding Test of the 2001 Lions series when leaping in front of Martin Johnson to pinch a key line-out on debut - may have only been the stand-in skipper, there is no downplaying the significance of his contribution to winning the trophy Ulster will look to regain tomorrow for a first time in 14 years.
In the days before the likes of Ruan Pienaar, Johan Muller, Charles Piutau or Marcell Coetzee, Harrison’s move from the Brumbies to Belfast was certainly eye-catching back in 2005. Indeed, in Rory Best’s autobiography released earlier this year, the former Ireland captain described Harrison as the biggest signing Ulster had ever made up to that point.
“Well, I wouldn’t put myself in that calibre,” he says of blazing a trail for the other notable imports to follow. “Why Ulster? Well, it wasn’t to work on my tan anyway.
“I still considered myself to be aspirational. I wanted to expose myself to the best type of competition that I could. I didn’t want to go to Japan or those more subsidiary competitions where you’re just earning a dollar and not exposing yourself to the risk of failure. So the Heineken Cup was a big carrot and I definitely didn’t want to go to England.
“I think the historic journey of Ulster as a province and Northern Ireland as a country had been on, that cultural identity, that really resonated with me and was something I was curious about.”
On arrival, there were certainly a few aspects of his new home he found more than curious.
“I arrived on a Sunday and thought there’d been an evacuation nobody had told me about.
“I walked through the city and everything was closed, all shuttered up, all the streets were empty. But I soon worked out that with a strong enough Australian accent, I could darken any door and be welcomed. Every second person could direct me to a different pub that had ‘the best Guinness in Ireland.’
“It wasn’t hard to really become a part of the place if you had an inquisitive nature and were willing to listen to the stories that were all around you. Sometimes I found myself wishing that I’d been there a lot longer or a lot earlier.”
It was not long before he recognised the potential of the squad around him too.
“I saw a big part of my requirement to be very much off the field, interacting with Mark McCall and Allen Clarke who were young coaches and a young squad that was searching to get better.
“That was evident from the minute I stepped into Newforge.
“There was a real tapestry of characters but the most important thing was that any time we were together there was a real determination to be better at the end than we were at the start.
“There was a good marriage of intellectual property. You had GG (Gareth) Robinson who had been a physio since the dawn of time, you had the Doc (David Irwin) always there to remind us what a real rugby player looked and sounded like.
“Guys like (Andrew) Trimble, (Tommy) Bowe, (Rory) Best, (Roger) Wilson, Matt McCullough, Neil Best, they were all in the embryonic stage of their careers. Then you had David Humphreys who was somehow still being offered a contract in a contact sport at 34.
"Paddy Wallace. How good was Paddy Wallace? An incredible player, only let himself down with the hair.
“It was a well put together squad from different demographics but at its core was a real Ulster blood-flow, a real clear idea of what it meant to put that jersey on and the obligation you had when you did.”
For all their talents, a draw in the season’s penultimate game that season had left them needing to beat the Ospreys in Swansea. When the Welsh side’s scrum-half Jason Spice went over five minutes from time and Gavin Henson’s conversion made it 17-16, it looked as if they’d handed the trophy to Leinster, the eastern province having already secured their required bonus-point.
“Before the game, I remember being very confident,” remembers Harrison. “I didn’t contemplate that we would lose that game, that’s different to arrogance or disrespect. But when Spicey went over to score, I remember thinking ‘phwoar, I don’t know’ but we got all the players together and I said ‘right, we’re going to kick-off and we’re going to get the ball back.’ And Humph said ‘Then I’ll knock it over.’ Simple.”
Or at least as simple as a league-winning drop goal from 40 metres that bounces off both posts can be.
“Humph just said to me he felt he needed that for a bit of drama,” laughs Harrison. “That’s the sort of bloke he is. I’d never encountered anyone like him.
"He invited me for a bbq round at his house shortly after I arrived and it was very special to be able to share some time with. First time I'd ever seen a golden toilet too round at Lord Humph's.
"He was self-effacing, very humble, but highly skilled, acutely aware of his strengths and weaknesses and always willing to give someone else the chance to be better. He epitomised everything it was to be an Ulsterman.”
The since replaced league trophy lended itself well to an old Australian tradition, soon filled with beer in the way Harrison and his fellow Wallabies used to do with the Bledisloe Cup.
“There was a really passionate Ulster support there and we shared it with them in the stadium but I suppose nobody had really thought about what we were going to do after,” recalls Harrison. “When these things happen, they usually actually dissipate pretty quickly as people get dragged away into different corners of their lives again.
"But back at the hotel, there was Alan Hunter, a huge supporter of Ulster Rugby over the years, who without thinking about it put his card behind the bar and said we had to celebrate things properly.
"One of things about that evening was that we savoured the moment together and really appreciated the journey.”
With a promising young team and an up and coming coach - whatever happened to Mark McCall? - the future seemed bright. Back then, it would have seemed scarcely credible that Ulster would be going into tomorrow's final without any silverware in almost 15 years.
"It's one of the reflections of that success that there's the disappointment of not continuing it on," Harrison admits. "It's obviously staggering, just the passage of time, but also that no Ulster team has won one since.
"The decline was quite sharp. The next season, we beat Toulouse 30-3 at home but by early 2007 we just didn't understand what our style was anymore and we got pulled apart then.
"There was interest elsewhere in a way that Ulster had never experienced before, their players hadn't ever really been recruited before. Like I had been, there were boys that were Belfast born and bred that were curious about going outside their own postcode.
"We had a dearth of international players but Ulster had usually had players who were comfortable with one club their whole careers. Once that changed, there was recruitment needed and it didn't come."
For Harrison himself, the next years were even tougher. The dissolution of his first marriage had rocked him and Ulster even gave him the option of returning home to sort his personal life. Intent on honouring his contract but dealing with depression, he increasingly turned to the bottle.
I’d love for my two boys to grow up understanding what it means to be an Ulsterman because for a moment in time their father was able to pull on that jersey and walk out to Stand up for the Ulstermen.
With everything going on away from the field, Harrison had no way of matching the heights he'd hit in that first season and, in 2008, he left for Bath, a stint the Rec that would ultimately end in controversy.
Looking back at his time here, Harrison believes it's important to embrace the entire picture, both light and shade.
"It's all part of the tapestry of my experience," he says. "If I ran away and hid from those parts of my life, you would never be able to enjoy the parts that are worth savouring. There's no question it was a very difficult period of time for me that I didn't manage very well. It was probably the first time that I'd had a reasonable set-back in my life and I didn't feel I had the tools to deal with or the right to impose that sort of angst or pressure on anyone else.
"You've built some resilience around it now but at the time it felt like a whirlpool I couldn't get out of. I'm happily married and have a great family now, so I'm certainly not going back into that pool, but at the time, it certainly didn't marry well with what I was trying to do on the field for the Ulster team and the Ulster public."
Thankfully, today he is in a very different place. Harrison lives back in Australia with his second wife and two sons aged ten and seven. Working as the CEO of Rugby Union Players Australia has been a challenge given the financial realities in the face of COVID-19, but the experience is a rewarding one too.
"I couldn't just be a tired Youtube clip of winning a line-out in '01 or a faded picture of lifting a trophy, as much pride as I can take still from seeing those things.
"I've got to do some different things and I'm very fortunate to get to do something I'm passionate about in helping and representing young men at a time where that's very important.
"The times that we're in, it's a huge challenge. The staggering thing is, at any moment in the time, every corner of the world is experiencing the same kind of trauma. Everyone is going through the same storm, the only difference in some places is the size of the boat."
All these years on, he still feels a connection to Belfast, continuing to own a house in the city while his South African-born wife has family on the north coast.
“It’s most certainly a place that we’d love to spend some time in the future,” he says. “I’d love for my two boys to grow up understanding what it means to be an Ulsterman because for a moment in time their father was able to pull on that jersey and walk out to Stand up for the Ulstermen.
“You can’t get that feeling anywhere else in the world.”