Saturday 23 March 2019

Tony Ward: Why Joey Carbery switch could be more trouble than it is worth

Incoming Ulster head coach Dan McFarland (right) overseeing a pre-match warm-up back in his days as assistant to Pat Lam at Connacht. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Incoming Ulster head coach Dan McFarland (right) overseeing a pre-match warm-up back in his days as assistant to Pat Lam at Connacht. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

So what exactly constitutes a 'basket case?'

Originally it was a term associated with incapacitated servicemen but more recently has been used to denounce a failing organisation.

It is in that context the words of our most esteemed international should be taken and nothing beyond that.

Brian O'Driscoll is more than capable of justifying his own phraseology, so far be it for me to go too far down that path.

But I guess when the term 'basket case' is used it smacks as being something from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' or some fabled institution of that silver-screen ilk.

As a failing organisation in recent times, Ulster Rugby ticks the boxes.

On the field and off it's been a nightmare period for everyone associated with the province. They may be down but I guarantee they are anything but out.

On a personal level I have huge grá for Ulster rugby, one that goes back to my playing days for Garryowen, St Mary's and Greystones, which meant a variety of cross-border, inter-club fixtures during extremely troubled times.

They were the best of times; when rugby played a real part on the road to the Good Friday Agreement.

There were countless feel-good stories over the years, including the inter-provincial championship and all that entailed.

It was former Ulster and Ireland player and coach Jimmy Davidson who introduced the concept of 'Club Ulster' way ahead of its time.

Davidson saw the development of the inter-provincial game as the only way for Ireland to become a consistent force at the highest level.

Bear in mind that was at least a decade before professionalism kicked in. To their credit, the IRFU followed the 'Jimmy D' blueprint to the letter.

Fast-forward to the appointment of former Connacht player and now vastly-experienced coach Dan McFarland to the hot seat at Ulster and we'd like to think a new era dawns.

If that sounds a tad hesitant on my part it is for no other reason than the fact this will be the new main man's first full-time appointment in that regard.

That said, after a dozen or more years assisting at Connacht, as well as Ireland U-20s and Ireland 'A', before moving on to Glasgow Warriors and most recently to the Scottish national team, at 46 the time is right for him to take the reins.

It is a calculated appointment as David Nucifora clearly sees a role for McFarland in the Irish set-up going forward. But first things first.

Were I the new appointment I would be looking to draw a line in the sand. In specific terms I would want my own coaching team in place.

If that means continuity through Dwayne Peel, Aaron Dundon, Niall Malone and possibly Jared Payne then happy days, but that call must be made by the new head coach.

In playing terms - and of course I get all the hype surrounding Joey Carbery (although I worry greatly about the possible impact on Johnny McPhillips who on all early evidence looks a serious prospect at fly-half) - my main emphasis would be on the pack and specifically the tight five.

Marty Moore's arrival will help but from one to five what should be a mean Ulster machine is lacking, particularly given Rory Best and Iain Henderson (as a lock) at its heart.

The transfer of Carbery, however temporary, could create early problems the new head coach could well do without. Either way it is a big call.

But factor in a schools system every bit the equal of Munster, and close to Leinster too, and the academy should be well-stocked going forward.

The best fit-for-purpose stadium in the country allied to an incredibly passionate core support is a powerful starting point.

Friday-night rugby in the Kingspan is special and not just on big European occasions, so returning Ravenhill to that psychological fortress should also top the initial agenda.

For McFarland and specifically for Club Ulster, the time has come to help the province move on from this rocky period and achieve some deserved success for their passionate supporters.

Irish Independent

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