Dan McFarland. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
exit door

'I don't have a bad word to say about Dan' - Ulster CEO on head coach departure

Results over the past 14 months had been indifferent for Ulster.

ULSTER RUGBY CEO Jonny Petrie has said on-field inconsistencies led to last week’s sacking of the province’s head coach Dan McFarland.

The former Connacht, Glasgow and Scotland assistant had been in the Ravenhill hot seat since 2018, rendering him the side’s longest-serving head coach of the pro era.

During his five and half year spell, he took Ulster to the URC play-offs four times, including one final and two semis, but could not end a silverware drought that goes back to 2006.

Results over the past 14 months had been indifferent, with 16 reverses in the last 31 games dating back to December 2022, and the loss dealt to them by Ospreys in Swansea two weekends ago ultimately proved to be the final straw.

“These things are really difficult,” Petrie said. “I’ve a huge amount of respect for Dan on a personal and professional level. You have a close working relationship with someone who you’ve worked day to day with for five years.

“These things are never easy. I’ve a lot of respect for what Dan has done here over the course of his time.

“I think you recognise that it’s perhaps the right time to make a change and you do what is best for the club. It is what it is, it’s part of the job.

“We ultimately got to the point with it where we felt we needed to change the head coach over the course of the past couple weeks. I don’t have a bad word to say about Dan, I’ve had a very good working relationship with him over the whole time he’s been at the club.

“During that period we’ve seen a huge amount of progress in where we’ve got to in being at the top end of the URC and consistently in European competition over that period, albeit it’s been frustrating where we haven’t taken that final step into silverware. Just this year we’d seen some inconsistencies creep in.

“We had some great stuff against Racing and Leinster on New Year’s Day, but there’s been inconsistency in there and it ultimately got to the point where we, as a club, thought it was the right thing to do to make a change.

“That’s just the nature of the business sometimes, as unfortunate as it is, but now we’re looking forward to Saturday in the first place and the rest of the season where we know we need to see an improvement in performance and more consistency through to the end of the season.”

While Dan Soper, McFarland’s assistant, will be the man in charge against the Dragons on Saturday night, Ireland under-20s boss Richie Murphy will arrive in Belfast after the conclusion of the Six Nations to guide the side through to the end of the season.

Widely viewed to be something of an audition for the gig on a permanent basis, Petrie called this an “opportunity” for Murphy.

richie-murphy Richie Murphy. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“Richie has an opportunity through to the end of the season and it would be great to see him take it,” he said.

“I think that familiarity with a number of our players through the under-20s, through the national team. is a good place to start on that.

“He has that track record of being able to work (with) and get the best out of a young group. That serves him in good stead.

“That’s why we’ve felt, along with the IRFU, that it’s great for Richie to get that opportunity through to the end of the year.

“We obviously look at what the longer term looks like on that but we shouldn’t forget that sometimes the answer is closer to home.

“It’s important that we do our diligence around that but it’s important with Richie coming in to see how he gets on and we’re looking forward to seeing how that plays through over the next few weeks.”

A new head coach is far from the only puzzle to be solved up in Belfast with the province enduring some well-documented financial struggles that have sparked talk of a player exodus.

Influential centre Stuart McCloskey is the latest to be linked to a move away with French media reporting that Bayonne are interested in buying out the final season of the 31-year-old’s contract. While Billy Burns, Will Addison, Luke Marshall and Dave Ewers are all among a number who are expected to move on at season’s end, McCloskey’s departure would be a hammer blow.

stuart-mccloskey-celebrates-after-the-game Stuart McCloskey. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“Stuart is in contract,” Petrie said when asked if Ulster could afford to make a competitive counter offer.

“I’m not going to comment on specifics in there but as part of a refresh, some players go, some players come in.

“We’ll look at what that looks like. I think that we want to see players playing for Ulster that are capable of having us up there at the top end of championships and going deep into competitions.

“I’m very confident we’ll have that going into next season. Everyone’s got to cut their cloth, everyone has to balance the books. But there is an element of refreshing the squad and setting up a squad that we know will be here for the long-term. That’s what we plan for.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel