People from this part of the world tend to self-deprecating. At moments when we may feel tempted to boast, there appears to be an in-built counterbalance. It’s not so much a case of pride coming before a fall as of us deliberately tripping ourselves up to bring that fall about.
So while on the one hand we pride ourselves in being of the same stock as those who built the Titanic, on the other we’re quick to point out that it sank on its maiden voyage.
Thus to find myself in conversation with a former General Manager of Harland and Wolff — builders of the Titanic, of course — as he talks about the possibility of Ulster Rugby becoming the world’s best is somewhat paradoxical. Shane Logan has shifted the posts.
Ulster Rugby’s new chief executive officer is inviting us to test the depth and temperature of wholly uncharted water. He has a vision and time alone will tell whether or not it is realistic.
It is that Ulster Rugby will be world-class, not only superseding Munster and Leinster to become the best in Ireland, but also outgunning the cream of England’s Guinness Premiership and France’s Top 14.
Now that is quite a statement of intent at the outset of one’s tenure as Ulster’s new CEO.
And it could be dismissed as a fanciful impossibility were it not for the fact that the man making the statement has proved himself capable of competing at the highest level and therefore compels one to take the suggestion seriously.
Coca-Cola is a pretty significant player on the world stage, after all; presumably one doesn’t become head of its venture in Central Russia without very good reason.
“The aim over the next few seasons will be to make Ulster Rugby a world-class organisation, both on and off the pitch,” Logan says.
His remarkable words are delivered in so straightforward, understated a manner that he could be reading aloud from a rail timetable. He isn’t; instead Shane Logan is talking in terms of transforming professional rugby in the nine northern-most counties of Ireland into something hitherto never imagined.
World-class. On the pitch and off it. With a flourishing amateur game feeding into it. Essential, that, he stresses.
Winning Magners Leagues and Heineken Cups are on his list of things to do. This man has ambitions far beyond qualifying from the group stage of the latter.
“I believe there is a very bright future ahead for the IRFU Ulster Branch and I will look to strengthen the structures in place, moving forward to ensure that all parts of the business and all those involved achieve their full potential,” he continues.
Note his words, “all parts of the business”. That is rugby as he sees it. A business to be run in the same way and by the same rules as any other, be it making and selling ships profitably or overseeing increased sales of a American-based company’s fizzy drinks to Russians.
“The ability to run businesses of a significant size — or taken from a very small size up to sig
nificant size — gives me commercial experience which I hope will help,” he says of his job.
“I think, too, my experience in the voluntary sector has been essential because Ulster Rugby is largely made up of volunteers. Volunteers in leadership, volunteers running our clubs.
“We could not function without those people, so although we do have paid staff the part played by volunteers is essential to rugby in Ulster.”
He continues: “Similarly, the ability to influence decision-makers, MLAs and senior civil servants, was very important in my last role (chief executive of the Royal National Institute of the Blind) in trying to bring about changes in policy, in law, in budget.
“That has meant a close working relationship with government, which is something that is going to be very important in this job.”
It certainly is, with the development of Ravenhill central to Ulster Rugby’s future plans.
But Logan’s unquestionable business acumen is underwritten by his love of rugby football as a game. Time and again that comes across and Ulster’s hope is that he can weld this head-heart combination to maximum effect.
He describes himself as “a long-standing supporter” of the code he has both played and coached. His commitment to working for the betterment of the game at club-level will hearten those purists who fear that professionalism is strangling the game they play, know, love and have worked for for no reward other than the enjoyment of participating.
“Rugby is in my DNA,” says the man who was a scrum-half at Bangor Grammar School before becoming a centre whilst at Manchester University from where he graduated in law.
He explains: “The professional game is absolutely critical and we want to be world’s best — best results, competing for Heineken Cups winning Heineken Cups and better than the Super 14 sides.
“But we won’t do that without the domestic game being absolutely thriving. My background is the domestic game — schools’ rugby and club rugby — and I benefited greatly from it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I know the goodness and enjoyment rugby brings throughout the nine counties of Ulster.
“I want out traditional strengths in schools and clubs to be invigorated and I want us to reach out to those parts our game hasn’t traditionally reached.”
Those sentiments reveal something of his strategy not only to bring along those traditionalists in danger of abandoning ship but also to enlist new recruits.
The inclusion of schools, clubs and those hitherto absent, in tandem with an all-conquering, wholly viable professional side playing before packed audiences at splendid Ravenhill.
That’s some mission statement.