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'It's maybe not the colours on the shirt you play for, it's probably the people'

Bill Johnston has no regrets about his move from Munster to Ulster last year.

Johnston moved to Ulster in the summer of 2019.
Johnston moved to Ulster in the summer of 2019.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

TIPPERARY MAN BILL Johnston was busy preparing for Ulster’s clash with Scarlets two weekends ago when word came through that the Premier County had ended their 85-year wait to win the Munster Senior Football Championship by beating Cork.

Johnston was focused on the job at hand up in Belfast but he took a moment to delight in the result, particularly given that so many of his former Moyle Rovers team-mates and fellow ex-Rockwell College men were involved for Tipp.

Colm O’Shaughnessy, Conal Kennedy, Tadhg Fitzgerald, Colman Kennedy, and Emmett Moloney are among Johnston’s former team-mates or opponents, so he still has plenty of links with football despite opting to focus on rugby at the age of 16.

“I’d be close with a lot of those people and I was thrilled to see them do so well,” said Johnston ahead of Ulster’s clash with Edinburgh at Murrayfield tonight [KO 8.15pm, eir Sport].

Johnston paid his friends something of a tribute with a classy overhead catch in Ulster’s win against the Scarlets, but the 23-year-old Clonmel man has no regrets about the path he took towards professional rugby.

Nor does he have any regrets over his decision to leave his native Munster in the summer of 2019 and head north to Ulster in search of a fresh challenge and more game time.

“It was great for me to step out of things I’d been accustomed to in terms of maybe my living situation,” said Johnston. “My circle was probably very small between Clonmel and Limerick, that was pretty much my life.

“To uproot and do what your mates are doing when they go to Australia or New Zealand and spend their summers in America, we kinda miss out on that.

bill-johnston Johnston grew up dreaming of playing for Munster. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

“Obviously rugby performance was the main driving factor behind me moving, but personally I’ve seen probably a really large leap just going out and meeting new people and learning more about myself and what makes me tick both in the rugby facility and away from it.”

Johnston is “a pretty outgoing person” and so he didn’t find it a major challenge settling in with an entirely new group.

He had grown up dreaming of playing in Munster’s red jersey and did so 12 times at senior level but now realises that connections can be made anywhere as long as the players around you are good people.

“Munster rugby was all I knew and there’s obviously a lot of connection to the province having lived there and grown up there but I probably didn’t realise coming here that rugby is so universal.

“It’s maybe not the colours on the shirt that you play for, it’s probably the people in the organisation. They’re an extremely welcoming, friendly, outgoing group and playing hard for them is my main driving factor.

“Obviously then when you see how good the atmosphere is here, you want to do everything you can for the supporters and everything like that.

“For me, rugby is rugby and you play for your mate next to you. It’s the same in school, it’s the same as growing up. It’s never maybe Clonmel or Munster that you play for in particular, it’s the bonds that you make with the fella beside you. That’s what you play hardest for, so it’s made it particularly easy for me that the lads have been so good to me since I’ve come up here.

“When I play, it’s for them. When I hear supporters and their feedback, it’s for them too and the city and the whole province, how they’ve been so welcoming to me too. It’s easy to raise yourself to play for them.”

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bill-johnston The out-half is on the Ulster bench tonight. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Johnston, whose older brother David plays over in England with Ealing, remains highly ambitious.

Having made 11 senior appearances for Ulster last season, he is set for his sixth of the current campaign off the bench against Edinburgh, with Ian Madigan starting at out-half.

With an Ireland jersey his overarching goal, Johnston hopes to push on to a European start for Ulster sooner rather than later.

“My aim is to play international rugby and you need to be playing regularly and playing in big games for that to happen.”

Edinburgh:

15. Jack Blain
14. Eroni Sau
13. James Johnstone
12. Chris Dean
11. Jamie Farndale
10. Nathan Chamberlain
9. Henry Pyrgos (captain)

1. Pierre Schoeman
2. David Cherry
3. Lee-Roy Atalifo
4. Andries Ferreira
5. Andrew Davidson
6. Magnus Bradbury
7. Luke Crosbie
8. Ally Miller

Replacements:

16. Mike Willemse
17. Sam Grahamslaw
18. Dan Gamble
19. Jamie Hodgson
20. Viliame Mata
21. Connor Boyle
22. Charlie Shiel
23. Alec Coombes

Ulster:

15. Michael Lowry
14. Matt Faddes
13. James Hume
12. Stewart Moore
11. Rob Lyttle
10. Ian Madigan
9. John Cooney

1. Andrew Warwick
2. John Andrew
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Sam Carter (captain)
6. Sean Reidy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee

Replacements:

16. Bradley Roberts
17. Kyle McCall
18. Gareth Milasinovich
19. David O’Connor
20. David McCann
21. David Shanahan
22. Bill Johnston
23. Aaron Sexton

Referee: Craig Evans [WRU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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