Sunday 22 October 2017

Where are they now?

ANDY PARK

(Former Ulster winger)

THE thing that Andy Park remembers most from the day that Ulster were crowned European champions at Lansdowne Road in January 1999 is "running out to a sea of red and white."

After that there were "moments of brilliance from David Humphreys mixed with a strong kicking performance from Simon Mason. In that respect, it was much like the present Ulster team have done on their march to next week's final."

Park went to Campbell College and was outhalf on the team which won the Schools Cup in 1993. After that, he spent two years with NIFC, coming back at weekends from university in England to play for Ulster.

"The last year of my studies I played for Blackheath with All Black fullback John Gallagher. Then it was back to Ballymena, where we had a very strong pack, and Nelie Smith from South Africa as coach -- and won nothing."

His Ulster career took off in 1995 and he regards his first cap as one of the highlights of his career -- "it was against Combined Services and on my first touch I scored a try," he recalls.

Earlier he had been reserve outhalf behind Humphreys and was chosen to play at fullback, but missed out through injury. He finally made his debut on the wing "and that's where I stayed," he says.

He played for Ireland at under 21 and sevens, but reasons, "I don't think I would have made it for Ireland as there was a lot of competition on the wing, with Niall Woods, James Topping, Justin Bishop and Denis Hickie among my contemporaries."

While he considers himself fortunate to have played -- "there were a few injuries" -- he was one of the trail-blazers that day when Ulster showed that an Irish team could be kings of Europe.

He had deferred his last year of studies to go full-time that year, but he resumed club rugby afterwards with NIFC, which became Belfast Harlequins in a merger with Collegians.

As he was passionate about design, he studied graphic design and took chartered marketing exams and, for the last seven years, has run his own business, Inc Marketing, and last August he started a sports management agency, Sportology, with clients like young Ulster players Ian Henderson and Johnny Murphy, and golfer Gareth Maybin. His wife Shauna is a former hockey international and they have three young children.

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