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Doak will bring sunny outlook to his next coaching job after Ulster exit

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Departing Ulster head coach Neil Doak has admitted he would love to one day return to his native province. As part of a clear-out underneath Director of Rugby Les Kiss, the clash with Leinster on Saturday evening will be a last with Ulster for both Doak and forwards coach Allen Clarke.

The former scrum-half, who went with Ireland to the 1995 Rugby World Cup but never earned a Test cap, has served a variety of roles at Kingspan, through development officer, attack coach and, in between the reigns of Mark Anscombe and Kiss, heading up the coaching ticket.

And having devoted so much of his adult life to the side, both as a player and then a coach, the former international cricketer has said he would never rule out a return.

"Without a shadow of a doubt," he replied when asked if he would ever consider coming back.

"My heart is here and has been here for a long period of time.

"Ultimately, as I said before, I never really saw it as a job.

"It was a way of life for me. I am obviously disappointed I am going. It is out of my control and I would love to have been staying around.

"I have been here 10 years and put a lot into this and that is one of the reasons why it has been unbelievably frustrating for the last 18 months.

"I think from my point of view to help develop some of the players that have gone on to play international rugby and hopefully for the British Lions, it's just been great to be a small part of their journey."

Despite the frustrations over how it has all ended, Doak believes he can clear out his desk this week with no regrets.

Like so many who have left Kingspan in recent years, he admits that silverware was the missing piece of the puzzle, but Ulster Rugby has offered him a professional life beyond what he ever expected.

"Obviously I would have loved to have won a couple of competitions but I have no regrets," he reflected.

"I have been very fortunate from a playing point of view and a coaching point of view.

"I have been to two World Cups in cricket, a World Cup in rugby, coached my home province, coached with the national team.

"There's not very many things left from that point of view," he said.

"Ultimately I just want the players to achieve some of the stuff I have been able to experience and travel the world. Sport has given me an unbelievable lifestyle."

Rather than the professionals at Ulster, Doak will return to his alma mater and oversee the students at Queen's University next season - and says he will be adopting the same approach for the province's next generation of sporting stars.

"I will continue to do it, it will just be at a different label," he said.

"If you are a professional, whether you get paid a penny or £100,000, the professionalism is in your actions and attitudes," he added.

"The money is a by-product of it and, as I have always said, if you chase something that is an end product then you forget how to get everything in place to get that end product.

"That is all I have been trying to do, put some stuff in place and try and make sure the players enjoy what they are about and what we are about, and I suppose what has been disappointing maybe we lost a little bit about why we are playing the game."

And what he hopes to bring to a squad will remain the same, no matter what group of players he is taking charge of.

"It's just helping the players achieve their goals," he said of his profession.

"I've been lucky enough to work with guys through age grades, through the Academy into the pro game.

"Paul Marshall wrote me a lovely letter when he got his first professional contract, thanking me, and that is what it is about.

"It is not about the coach at all to me. I don't make any tackles or passes, it is about players and trying to make sure they play with a smile on their face.

"That is ultimately what I've been trying to do for the last number of years."

And whether it is with Ulster or not, a considerable amount of years to come.

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