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Kirwan targets Ulster job as McLaughlin 'sidelined'

By David Kelly

Within hours of Ulster's confirmation that Brian McLaughlin is to be jettisoned, former All Black John Kirwan last night revealed he would be interested in becoming the province's new coach when the post is vacated this summer.

Kirwan admitted his interest in the job, but he did allude to the "politics" coming out of the province after an embarrassing week for the former Heineken Cup champions.



"I'm in between jobs," he said. "I've always worked for Sky TV Italy while working with Japan. I love watching the Six Nations. I'm looking for a new coaching role and waiting for the right one.



"I'd love to stay in Europe and with a club that has aspirations to win. All the Irish clubs are looking to win the Heineken Cup. I'd look at any offers."



McLaughlin -- who is now set to take over the Ulster Academy -- revealed yesterday that he had been told before Christmas that his job was under threat, and insisted that "his coaching staff is more than good enough to win the Heineken Cup".



Despite the off-field turmoil, Kirwan disclosed his Ulster interest, though he's not one of the people who have already been contacted by Ulster's director of operations David Humphreys. "There's a bit of politics coming out of Ulster, but I haven't had any contact from anyone there," Kirwan told Newstalk radio.



"For me, I'm really looking for a side that wants to go places. If Ulster are keen on winning the Heineken Cup or the Pro12 League, I'd be keen to get involved.



"It's not something that I'll pursue. If I'm on their list, that would be okay. If not, I'm not going to worry about it."



Earlier in Belfast, McLaughlin looked a forlorn soul as he listened to his boss trying to explain why he is being ditched as Ulster's head coach at the end of the season, despite the lofty heights his charges have reached during his tenure.



During what was a frosty press conference, Humphreys explained why the province were planning to move forward without McLaughlin, who was squirming in his seat beside him. Humphreys spoke of the high expectations at Ravenhill and about why McLaughlin will now be the man to oversee their academy.



"Brian and myself sat down three years ago and talked about him taking over the Ulster coaching position," said Humphreys.

"Ulster were in a precarious position and we had views on the way we were going to address our problems. Two and half years later we have taken some big strides. Our performances over the last month showed that we have closed the gap between ourselves and Leinster and Munster.



"But we are in the business of professional sport, for which there are short-term and long-term objectives. As part of our long-term strategy, we are now at a point where we will be changing our head coach for next year, with Brian moving to take up a post at the Ulster Academy.



"The reason for this is, firstly, when you see the position we are in, and you look at the situation within the IRFU, where there is an increasing emphasis placed on young, indigenous Irish players coming through our system, it now shows the importance of our academy.



"We know that if we are going to fill an 18,000-capacity stadium at Ravenhill, we have got to have players coming through who are not just competing with Leinster and Munster, but are beating them on a regular basis and achieving a seat at the top table in Europe.



"We believe that Brian, with his experience at schools level and within the Irish and Ulster coaching set-up, is the perfect man to go in and work alongside Gary Longwell in our academy to drive that forward.



"We are all very ambitious in this organisation and Brian's new appointment will be to the long-term benefit of the players and Ulster rugby in general."



McLaughlin, who sat unmoved as Humphreys spoke, then explained his position.



"I'm grateful to Ulster Rugby for offering me the opportunity of a safety net within the organisation after I finish my role as head coach," he said through what looked like clenched teeth.



"It is something that other coaches do not have and certainly I am exceptionally grateful for that. But, to be honest, I'm a little bit disappointed in that I wasn't expecting to use the safety net so quickly.



"From that point of view, yes, I'm disappointed, but I have the rest of the season to consider and I still see a huge challenge ahead in both competitions.



"I feel that I haven't finished the job yet. I was hoping to finish this season with great success and then push on even further."



On the timing of his downfall, McLaughlin said that there was never a good time to hear bad news.

Belfast Telegraph

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