Alan O’Connor rallies Ulster for end-of-season push

The northern province are in contention for a top-eight finish in the BKT United Rugby Championship and a place in the play-offs

Alan O'Connor
Ulster lock Alan O'Connor (David Davies/PA)

AFTER watching another opportunity to win a trophy disappear on Saturday as Ulster crashed out of the European Challenge Cup at the quarter final stage in Clermont, long-serving second row Alan O’Connor has issued a rallying cry to his team-mates as the province chase a first domestic league title since 2006.

O’Connor left his native Dublin in 2012 to join Ulster and, like a generation of players, has yet to get his hands on any silverware at Kingspan Stadium.

After defeats to the Sharks and Stormers in their last two URC games, Ulster sit eighth in the table ahead of the last five games and face a scrap to reach the quarter-finals.

“Every game is effectively a playoff game at the minute now because like, if we lose, I think we go to 11th or something with how the other fixtures might play out,” stated O’Connor.

“Yeah, pressure is on, you’ve got to enjoy that pressure. Great that it’s a Friday night game to get our teeth into, against Cardiff as well and then Benetton the week after.

“We’re talking about every game matters, get maximum points, and I’m looking at this game as a play-off game in my mind because we could just be easily slipping off and not getting  Europe. Anything can happen in rugby... we need to finish high up the table then we’ll see where we are at and go from there.”

“Last year I was really annoyed how that quarter-final (Connacht) went, this year it was definitely more of an ask going over to Clermont after three tough away games as well, but I’m trying my best for it (to win a trophy).”

After two games in South Africa and two in France, Ulster have a first home game tomorrow night since beating the Dragons on the first weekend in March.

“Everyone is really excited to play here on Friday and hopefully we show that on the pitch,” O’Connor  said.

“It was tough for the guys on the road, I wasn’t in South Africa, it’s four away games and a lot of travelling, but the guts seem in good spirits and looking forward to getting home and having a proper training week and to then implement what we have been working on more consistently as a group.

“Get everybody aligned; the academy have been training with us which is really good and that brings another competitive element to that. It was definitely tough, and I think we had two six-day turnarounds in there as well so it was quite hard.”

“We do have squads for it, like it’s 40 people so I do think we can share the load, I suppose we have to get on with it. I just sort of rock up play and if you’re told to be there at a certain time I’ll be there if we are playing.”

After nine defeats in 14 games O’Connor wants to put a show on for the Kingspan faithful.

“You want to prove it too yourself and everyone that cares about you and to the people that come out here and pay to watch us play,” he said.

“You want to prove to them that you care a lot, and you want to prove that we don’t take it lightly representing the whole province.”