Ritchie McMaster hoping to turn tables on former club Queen's and drive Instonians to Senior Cup glory

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Ritchie McMaster kicked the winning penalty for Queen’s in the Senior Cup final a decade ago against Ballynahinch.

The out-half was part of the students team that was successful in 2022 but was on the losing side 12 months ago as Queen’s lost in the final.

After helping guide Queen’s to promotion from Division 2A of the All Ireland lead to the second tier, McMaster and a host of other players swapped the Dub for Shaw’s Bridge to join Instonians.

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McMaster was an integral part of helping his new club to promotion and a Senior Cup final as Instonians look to lift the trophy for the first time in a quarter of a century on Saturday, when they just happen to be facing Queen’s in the decider at Kingspan Stadium (3pm).

Ritchie McMaster has won the Senior Cup twice with Queen's and will now try to achieve the feat as an Instonians player against his former clubRitchie McMaster has won the Senior Cup twice with Queen's and will now try to achieve the feat as an Instonians player against his former club
Ritchie McMaster has won the Senior Cup twice with Queen's and will now try to achieve the feat as an Instonians player against his former club

“I was lucky enough to win back in the 2013/14 season with Queen’s and lost the final with Ballymena the next year,” McMaster said of his Senior Cup highs and lows.

“I managed to get over the line again in 2022 with Queen’s, so two Senior Cups with Queen’s and into another final with Instonians.

“It was probably written in the stars that we’d be playing against Queen’s in the final and it is definitely something to look forward to.

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“I was lucky enough that night (2014). I fluffed a couple of late ones, Pritch (Paul Pritchard) was in the opposition that night playing for Ballynahinch at openside flanker; it’s strange how things tend to go full circle and Pritch is now coaching at Instonians.

“It is a special thing about Ulster rugby that people tend to go full circle,” he added.

“I remember us being in 2A at the time and pushing for promotion and they were mid table 1A at the time and I don’t think anybody gave us a chance that night going into that game.

“It was one of those teams at Queen’s that year that just never gave up and we just sort of hung in. I certainly missed a few kicks early on in the game but Ballynahinch kept missing their kicks at goal as well which probably kept us in the game.

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“I managed to hit a late one to get over the line that night but it was definitely a tight affair.”

The final two years ago was a different affair for Queen’s.

McMaster added: “We’d lost the playoff final the week before and it was really tough to get ourselves up to go and play in the Senior Cup final but credit to Suff (Derek Suffern) and DJ (Creighton), who were coaching us and Dizzy (David Whitten) as our captain.

“We had set out a goal at the start of that season that we wanted to win the Senior Cup alongside getting promotion.

“I think the bit was between our teeth that day. Armagh were going for four Senior Cups in a row on the day – it was nice to put them away and at that time they were a team that was in 1B, so that was a good day.”

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Queen’s lost last year to Ballynahinch and McMaster felt a few outside factors impacted the result.

“Looking back, it was a game that got away from us,” he said. “It was around exam time and a lot of guys had to nip out of training in the week or two leading up to it.

“We’d already got promoted and from memory we were 15-3 up at half time and it just felt as though Hinch ground us down in the end and scored a few unanswered tries in the second half. We gave it a rattle but unfortunately couldn’t get over the line that day.”

After a decade stretched over two spells and helping Queen’s finally get into Division 1B, McMaster felt it was time to move on.

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“I think it was one of those things after we’d lost out on promotion in 2022. Dizzy and I agreed with a few other boys we’d stay for another year and have another rattle at it,” he said.

“There were times last season where it looked pretty unlikely that we were going to get up, but we managed to get a few results put together at the back end of the season and we crawled over the line – I think we won the league by two points.

“When that happened, I think I felt that I had sort of achieved my goal at Queen’s. I played for 10 seasons at Queen’s in total and every one of those 10 years we had battled to get up out of 2A, and it just felt a nice natural point to move on.”

McMaster has hit the ground running at Inst.

“It has been a phenomenal season,” he said. “To go on that All Ireland League record of 30-odd games; obviously I wasn’t part of all those.

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“This season at Instonians has been great I have fairly enjoyed my time playing alongside some good mates from over the years and way back, so hopefully we can go one step further and get some silverware this Saturday.”

Inst have reached the final the hard way, beating Ulster’s two Division 1A clubs.

“I actually missed the Hinch game as it was the same weekend as my younger sister got married but I was watching the game on the live stream that day,” McMaster said.

“Against Armagh in the semi-final it was a tough day. We took the lead by a couple of scores but them being a top side in 1A they ground us down, but we hung in and credit to the pack – they put us in a position for me to kick the late penalty and lucky enough it went between the posts.

“We are under no illusions that that doesn’t give us the right to go and win on Saturday.

“Queen’s will be tough if not tougher opposition especially at this time of the year on a 4G pitch.”

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