Following a hiatus, as a result of COVID-19, the Fans’ Forum for the club’s Season Ticket Holders returned this evening with Pete Snodden speaking to Head Coach, Dan McFarland, new Defence Coach, Jonny Bell, and players, Alan O’Connor, and John Cooney.
Kicking-off the evening, at which over 200 supporters were welcomed to the A&L Goodbody Lounge, was a video message from CEO, Jonny Petrie, who was unable to attend the event due to Branch business.
It set a good tone for the evening, as Jonny acknowledged the achievements and challenges of last season – as well as looking to the season ahead, which is set to see the continued return of spectators.
First-up for questioning was Head Coach, Dan McFarland, who recently renewed his commitment to Ulster.
Speaking on the night about why he is continuing his journey with Ulster, he said:
“The playing group and support staff are a team that want to fight for every inch, and when you’re watching you can see the passion. They want to bleed for their jersey.”
The audience also enjoyed an insight into how pre-season training has been going over the past couple of weeks, as well as an update on how the new recruits are settling in.
“We have been able to bring in some exciting additions to an already strong squad that will add depth. I’ve never been in a club where new players are able to fit in so easily – and that’s testimony to the players and support staff.”
Next to take to the mic was the club’s newest coaching addition, Jonny Bell, who makes a welcome return to the province.
Of his return to Ulster, Bell said:
“It’s fantastic to be home again. I’m delighted that Dan gave me this opportunity. We have a strong team that is really going places – and I’m back to where I was ‘born and bred’, and working at the top level of European rugby.”
Speaking of the challenges that lie ahead in the new season, the Defence Coach said he was looking forward to building on the foundations laid by Jared Payne, and that he knew his job is to add value and help the group to develop.
With 100 caps for the province recently chalked-up, John Cooney, was up next. On what this meant to him, Cooney said:
“It’s a privilege to be able to do what I love, and to represent the people in this room, and all of our supporters.”
The scrum-half also spoke about his strong working relationship and friendship with 20-year-old teammate, Nathan Doak:
“Nathan and I have a great relationship. The better he is, the better I am. We get on really well, and that’s both on and off the training field and pitch.”
Last, but not least, was the United Rugby Championship’s ‘Tackle Machine’ of last season, Alan O’Connor.
The lock, who regularly captains the side, spoke of the blend of youth and experience in the current Ulster squad – and what the playing group is expecting in the season ahead:
“We have big ambitions for the coming months, and that includes looking forward to welcoming the European champions to Kingspan. We had some big away wins last season, and we’ll be looking to build on those.”