Ulster secure futures of three 'outstanding' Academy prospects on first senior contracts
Ulster have secured the futures of three of their brightest young talents on their first senior contracts.
Academy players Eric O'Sullivan, Michael Lowry and James Hume have all penned deals with the province.
The trio have made a combined total of 39 appearances for Ulster's senior side this season and are all affiliated with Banbridge RFC.
Ulster Rugby Head Coach Dan McFarland hailed the move.
“Eric, Michael and James are great examples of players who have seized their opportunities due to their hard work and as a result they have produced outstanding performances at PRO14 and Champions Cup level. All three are fully deserving of senior contracts," he said.
“Kieran Campbell and his Academy staff deserve a lot of credit for their work in identifying and nurturing talent in our local clubs and schools, enabling them to transition smoothly into the senior squad. We will continue to work hard to build our strength in depth and the development of local young players is central to our future.”
Here are the key details about all three:
O’Sullivan made his Ulster debut in the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 season opener against Scarlets and has featured in 19 of Ulster’s 21 competitive games this season.
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It has been a remarkable rise for the 23-year-old loosehead prop, who featured in 17 out of 18 All Ireland League games for Banbridge last season. He had previously lined out for St. Mary’s College RFC, Templeogue College and Trinity College and moved north in summer 2017 to take a place in the Ulster Academy.
What's he said about his new contract? “It’s been a great couple of years for me. It was a big change for me moving up from Dublin but I tried to take in all in my stride and joining a great club like Banbridge was a massive help for me in terms of my development.
“This year has been pretty incredible for me so far, so I’m just hoping to keep that going and enjoy it as much as I can.
“There’s a very exciting group of players coming through and we have a great coaching team in place so I think the future is looking very promising and I’m delighted to be staying on.”
The 20-year-old began his rugby journey at Dromore RFC and continued his development at The Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Banbridge RFC. He joined the Ulster Academy straight from school, having won three consecutive Danske Bank Schools’ Cup titles.
He made his senior debut in the PRO14 game against Munster on 29th September and then made his Champions Cup bow as a fullback two weeks later at home to Leicester Tigers. He has played 11 games this season and scored his first try against Dragons in late October. He made his first start in the flyhalf berth on Friday evening against Ospreys.
What's he said about his new contract? “I’m delighted to have signed my first senior contract - it’s an amazing feeling. I’m grateful to my coaches at Dromore minis, Inst. (The Royal belfast Academical Institution), Banbridge Rugby Club and in the Ulster Academy for helping me get to this point.
“A few of the other young players have signed on as well and that’s great to see that we’re all sticking together. I’m really looking forward to being involved over the next few years.”
He started out in the mini rugby section at Malone RFC before playing alongside Lowry at RBAI, where he was also a three-time winner of the Schools’ Cup. He too joined Banbridge and the Ulster Academy upon leaving school.
The centre, also 20, has played nine games for the senior side this season, including Friday’s fixture in Bridgend.
What's he said about his new contract? “It’s been my dream to play for Ulster since I was a child so it’s amazing to be staying for another three years. I’ve really enjoyed my first team experience this season and I’m hoping to get even more opportunities in the years to come.
“I’ve played with Michael for a long time and it’s really special for us to sign our first senior contracts together.”