Belfast Telegraph

Ulster must lose nearly men tag

By Steven Beacom

It was in February 2010 that Ulster Rugby's new Chief Executive Shane Logan came out with one of the most bullish statements ever made about a sporting organisation in this country.

"Whatever plan we put together has to deliver Ulster being top of the pile in Ireland, Europe and indeed the world," insisted Logan.

In his first public appearance as Chief Executive it was clear Logan wanted to start his reign at Ravenhill with a bang.

He achieved that aim, surprising rugby writers in attendance and those who later read or heard his comments.

Essentially Logan was saying that under his leadership the intention was that Ulster would become the finest club on the rugby planet.

There was much made of it at the time because (a) it was a staggering statement and (b) because it's not really the done thing in this part of the world to talk ourselves up like that.

In the weeks that followed Shane's comments, Ulster drew at home to Newport Gwent Dragons in the Celtic League, were hammered away by Scarlets and Cardiff Blues who also beat them at Ravenhill, as did Ospreys.

For the record that season Ulster were knocked out of the Heineken Cup in the group stages and finished EIGHTH out of 10 teams in the Celtic League.

Little wonder that a few members of the Ulster staff were concerned that Logan had heaped unnecessary pressure and placed unrealistic expectations on the players.

Here I'll defend the Ulster Chief Executive as he put no time limit on our boys becoming the best in the world. It wasn't going to happen overnight.

I would also add that if Shane really believed what he was saying and was confident that the grand plan would come together, then why shouldn't he have said what he did.

Sometimes we hide our light under a bushel too much in Northern Ireland and while I'm not advocating we go all Muhammad Ali, there is room for more confidence in ourselves and what we can achieve.

"Best in the world" though is some standard to set.

And the problem with making a statement of intent like that is if you don't deliver, you are left looking like a failure.

Since Logan arrived there is no doubt that the Ulster team have made great strides on and off the field... Ravenhill for instance is being modernised and extended to an 18,000 capacity.

They have reached a Heineken Cup final, a Pro 12 Cup final, finished top of the Pro 12 league, have recruited world class players from abroad and developed fine local talent becoming a genuine force in European rugby.

Logan, David Humphreys, who in 2008 went from outstanding player to capable administrator deserve credit for that, as do the two coaches in the last three and a half years Brian McLaughlin and current incumbent Mark Anscombe and of course the players... fantastic blokes from home and abroad like Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Chris Henry, Andrew Trimble, Johann Muller, Ruan Piennar and John Afoa who have helped take the team to new levels.

There is one major blot on the landscape though.

Ulster have not won any silverware since 2006.

Without question it is harder to triumph now than it was then in the various competitions and they have come mighty close...but close doesn't cut it when your ambition is to be the top dog.

After the Pro 12 final defeat to Leinster last season, the straight talking Rory Best said there should be no excuses adding that it was about time Ulster learned to get over the line in the truly big games.

Quite right he was too.

We've enjoyed the massive improvements and lapped up the scintillating rugby played by the team in recent times, but in the highly competitive and ruthless world of modern day rugby, surely Ulster can't keep waiting to actually win something.

Remember if Ulster want to attract top players and fill the 18,000 stadium, they need to be considered winners.

Referring back to Shane Logan's words ... we aren't the best team in Ireland yet, with Leinster still carrying that mantle, let alone the best in Europe or the world.

Starting next Friday night, this season, given the experience and hurt of near misses in the previous two campaigns, the time has come for Ulster to step up and put a trophy on the table.

The players know it, the coach knows it and so does the Chief Executive.

Nearly men is not a cool tag to have.

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