Paul Marshall hoping to join Ulster's 200-club
PAUL Marshall will become only the fifth Ulster player to clock up 200 caps when he comes off the bench to face Benetton Treviso in tonight's PRO14 clash at the Kingspan Stadium.
It will be a proud moment for the scrum-half, who is well used to cameo appearances as a replacement, having had to play second fiddle to other number nines for the bulk of his career.
He might have been forgiven for thinking that the current season would have been different following the departure of South African star Ruan Pienaar after seven years at the club.
The arrival of John Cooney from Connacht put paid to that but Marshall has never been one to complain although he admits that warming the bench is not his favourite pastime.
"For one reason or another this season I haven't been involved as much as I'd like to have been and that's been a bit frustrating from a rugby point of view." said Marshall.
"I was looking to kick on and make the jersey my own and obviously John has come in and done really well and fitted in well.
"Hopefully, moving forward to this next part of the season, I'll be involved a bit more and hopefully put a bit of pressure on.
"I don't want to be sitting and watching someone else playing, I want to be playing as much as I can; there's a really good environment here and it's something I want to be part of."
The 32-year-old has shown unstinting loyalty to his home province even when offers came along to move to pastures new, particularly when he forced his way into the Ireland squad in 2013.
"I think the thing that's always stuck in my mind is 'would I be as passionate about another club ?' I don't know, maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't - you don't know until you go." he added.
"But you look at some of the guys who have come here and you see how they've bought in to this environment.
"Maybe I could have gone away; Ruan was here at the time but I was still just on the edge of the Irish set up and I didn't want to go away then because my dream wasn't to play rugby for 'x' 'y' and 'z'.
"My dream was to play rugby for Ulster and Ireland and unfortunately nothing (much) really came of Ireland; but I think If I'd gone away and forgone that opportunity to play for Ireland then I probably would have been really disappointed.
"But I still get as much enjoyment out of training and playing as I ever have done and I want to play as long as I can be part of this organisation.
"The limited game-time in big matches is something you've just got to deal with, it's not something you accept, you're not happy about it but this season when I've got on, I feel that I've contributed okay."
Marshall should at least mark his 200th appearance with a win against an under-strength Treviso tonight - something neither of the other recent double-centurions - Rory Best and Robbie Diack - managed earlier in the season.
"It's been a privilege and a joy to have been playing with so many great players over the years and to have been coached by so many great coaches at a club I grew up as a school boy wanting to be involved in." he enthused.
"My 100th and 150th games were away from home, so it would be nice to mark the occasion with a win in front of friends and family."
Ulster, who have signed Ireland prop Marty Moore from Wasps on a two-year deal starting next season, have handed a debut to Ballynahinch flanker Aaron Hall tonight, with fellow newcomers Matthew Dalton and Greg Jones set to be introduced from the bench.