Although there have been different formats used for the tournament over the past four decades, one thing has remained consistent, the association with the Portadown based bakery, Nutty Krust.
Other established competitions may be older in the Ulster club game, but a 40–year relationship between the company and this annual tournament has stood the test of time.
At the launch at host club Portadown Rugby Club, attended by some of the inaugural winners – incidentally Portadown – the tradition of leaving Chambers Park with a loaf continued.
However, there was also a slice of birthday cake to mark a special occasion.
The competition was first played between junior clubs’ 1st XVs. It then moved to Senior Clubs’ 2nd XVs and in more recent times has been contested as an Under–18 competition and is regarded as one of the premier tournaments for the youth sections within the clubs in Ulster. It can also provide a pathway to greater achievements. Former British Lion, Ireland and Ulster star Stephen Ferris has played in the tournament while current Ulster Academy hooker, Adam McBurney, who has broken into the senior squad at Kingspan Stadium, played with Ballymena in the competition.
And four of the players in the current City of Armagh senior side who have just reached a first All Ireland Bateman Senior Cup final and back–to–back First Trust Ulster Senior Cup final were in the Armagh Under–18 side which lifted the Nutty Krust Floodlit Cup two years ago. The Armagh club also lifted the trophy last year and are keen to become only the second club in the history of the Portadown–staged tournament to win it three times in a row. That was last achieved by Banbridge between 1993 and 1995 when Ulster’s premier junior clubs 1st XVs battled it out for the honours.
Director of Irwin’s Bakery, Brian Irwin, said key to the consistent success of the competition over the decades was based on sound organisation. “Portadown Rugby Club have had through the generations great organisers who have made sure the whole thing runs like clockwork.
“All the teams who come into it know it is well run, they know they will be listened to, any problems are ironed out immediately and no body has complaints about it. “Those are the enduring features and also the organisers have been wise enough to tweak the format as generations go by and the rugby scene changes to maintain enthusiasm and interest in the competition.”