Former Ulster head coach Neil Doak has been named as the man in charge at All-Ireland League club Belfast Harlequins for next season.
The 47-year-old has returned to the province after two campaigns as assistant coach at Worcester in the English Premiership and takes the reins at Division 2B club Quins where he was previously a player.
Doak will be in charge at Deramore on a consultancy basis and the former Ulster scrum-half is ambitious to push Quins on as he takes over from Methodist College’s Nick Wells, who stands down after three years at the club — though without being able to complete this season due to the coronavirus crisis.
Doak’s arrival at Deramore is a huge boost for the south Belfast side and the former Ireland cricket international, whose son Nathan will be part of next season’s Ulster Academy, is glad to be back at the place where he was once a player.
He is also determined to see the club make progress and attract new players to Deramore.
“From my point of view it’s good to be back at home and I’m grateful Harlequins have given me an opportunity to continue coaching,” said Doak, who will be assisted by former Ulster prop John Andress.
“I have a long association with Belfast Harlequins and before that North. It’s also good that there are a few guys I played with who are still involved at Quins.
“I’m under no illusions, it will take a couple of seasons to firstly attract players into the club but also people in Ulster will know my background where I have a track record of developing players and playing a decent and enjoyable brand of rugby.”
While praising the efforts of Wells, Doak has already set out his stall in terms of what he hopes to achieve at Deramore with rugby, hopefully, coming back in the autumn.
“It hasn’t been easy for Quins over the last couple of seasons but Nicky Wells has done really well in difficult circumstances,” said Doak, whose area of expertise is working with the backline and focusing on attack plays.
“I won’t hold back from challenging the players.
“I’m going to give them the best chance to develop and grow and play a brand of rugby they are excited about.
“I do think in the first year it could be inconsistent as the players need to get to know me, and I need to get to know them.
“But I still think that this season coming will be a decent journey and, initially, we’ll still look at trying to get into the play-offs and take it from there.
“It’s a two-fold thing for me, if there are some who want to push hard and stay in the pathway, and potentially head towards the professional game, I think I’ve got the capabilities to assist them in that.
“I also realise there are guys who want to train a couple of nights a week and play on a Saturday and that, for them, rugby is more of a social aspect. We want to cater for both.
“I also think the demographic in Belfast allows for three competitive senior teams with Malone, Queen’s and Quins.
“If we can get a few guys coming out of school and attract them to Quins then they’ll get good opportunities to develop both their rugby and the social aspect of things.”
Doak left Ulster in 2017 after lengthy service at the Kingspan outfit as a player and coach.
After a season with Queen’s University and working at Campbell College he hooked up with the professional game again with former Ulster head coach Alan Solomons at Worcester.