British and Irish Lions colossus Willie John McBride has issued a rallying call to all rugby fans across the province ahead of a special memorial dinner.
The rugby legend is urging them to snap up the final few tickets for the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner, which will take place this Saturday (13th September) at Coleraine Inst.
The event is being organised to mark 25 years since CAI became the first Irish school to play rugby in Japan, and to celebrate the life of Oliver Turkington, the stand-out player on the four-match tour, who died in 2007 after a long battle with cancer.
Willie John, capped 17-times by the Lions including four as skipper of the 1974 ‘Invincibles’ in South Africa, will be principal speaker on an action-packed night hosted by popular local comedy duo Grimes and McKee.
With the agreement of the Turkington family, proceeds from the event will be split between Cancer Research UK and rugby development at Coleraine Inst.
Willie John, whose son Paul was CAI 1st XV captain in Japan in 1989, said he remained deeply proud of the unique ability rugby has to unite people.
“I understand from talking to Paul that some of the players on that tour have not seen each other since leaving school 25 years ago, and yet most of them will be there for what I know will be a very special evening,” he said.
“Oliver and Paul were great friends at school, and remained in close touch until Oliver passed away at the age of just 35. I came to know Oliver well and he was a fine young man.
“It is a fitting tribute to him that so many people, including some who never had the privilege of meeting him, are travelling to Coleraine for the dinner. For me, it says a lot about the rugby family and the power of rugby football to bring individuals together.
“It will be an emotional occasion but one I am very much looking forward to. I hope we can make it a sell-out.”
Barry White, a member of the CAI Japan Tour squad who has been organising the dinner, said: “Over the last 18 months, a lot of work from an ever-growing list of people has been channelled into putting on a night of celebration, reflection and fun. And thanks to very generous support from our sponsors, Tughans and Doran Consulting, I can assure guests that they will be very well-looked after.
“We are also incredibly grateful to the many businesses and others who have provided absolutely top drawer items for both the raffle and auction.
“We have a few surprises in store which should make everyone smile. But the opportunity to hear Willie John address us will be the highlight for many - including me. I had the privilege to talk on the phone with the great man a few weeks ago, and was genuinely taken aback by his enthusiasm for what we were trying to do.
“It will be a terrific night, it won’t be repeated and it’s one not to miss.”
Ryan McClintock, Regional Manager of Cancer Research UK in Northern Ireland, said: “It has been a fantastic achievement by Barry to get almost all of his old teammates back together to honour the memory of Oliver.
“It’s wonderful they’re supporting Cancer Research UK so that together, we will beat cancer sooner. We wish Barry and all of Oliver’s family and friends the best of luck for the evening. “
Tickets for the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner – priced at £45 - are available from the school office, by calling Diane Armstrong on Tel: 028 7034 4331 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org