Banbridge girl Jemma Jackson has been named as Ulster’s Errigle Womens Player of the Year at the Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards.
The 19 year-old has had a stunning season for her Queen’s team and was even called up to the Ireland ladies senior squad for the Six Nations.
On Saturday night, she rubbed shoulders with Ulster’s elite stars such as Player of the Year Andrew Trimble and Ulster rugby captain Johann Muller.
“I was really surprised to get a nomination let alone win because Ulster didn’t have a great inter-provinical tournament,” she said.
“I didn’t have a great one personally either but I must have done something right to win the award.
“It’s an absolute honour to get it. I’m really surprised but really pleased because I’ve worked very hard this season in the gym and on the pitch.”
On the stage with so many Ulster stars, Jemma says she tried not to seem too over-awed:
“I must admit, I was a bit star-struck but I kept telling myself to play it cool. All the Ulster boys are so down to earth and kept coming over to congratulate me and ask me questions about ladies rugby.
“It’s really cool for ladies rugby to be recognised alongside the men.
However natural she tried to act though, she couldn’t resist a selfie or two.
“I got a couple with Paddy Barnes and John Afoa but most of the time I tried to play it cool,” she said.
It’s all just reward for what has been a trophy-laden season for Jackson and Queen’s, successes that she says were unexpected:
“It’s been amazing becuase at the start of the season I wasn’t sure how well we would do but we finished second in the All Ireland League and won the Ulster Cup as well. This weekend we also won the carrick Sevens tournament for the third year in a row and we won the All Ireland Shield back in March as well.
“It’s been a fantastic season but it’s all been tough mentally, coming back from injuries I picked up.”
Although she was called up to the Ireland panel, she didn’t make it onto the pitch due to one of those injuries. However, she hopes to put that right next season as her CV continues to grow.
“Next season, I want to get into the Six Nations squad and get that first cap but before that I need to concentrate on doing well for Queen’s and trying to win the League and Cup.”
Jackson is Ulster’s youngest ever player and is no stranger to awards ceremonies, having picked up the Lindsay Corkin Award for Special Achievement at this year’s Banbridge District Sports Awards.