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How Dan McFarland's wife has helped turn attention from Ulster's PRO14 final defeat to Toulouse trip

Leinster defeat now in the past as Ulster focus on crunch Champions Cup mission

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Painful experience: Ulster stars are dejected after coming up short in the PRO14 final against Leinster

Painful experience: Ulster stars are dejected after coming up short in the PRO14 final against Leinster

�INPHO/Billy Stickland

Painful experience: Ulster stars are dejected after coming up short in the PRO14 final against Leinster

Having taken until Monday evening himself to get over Ulster's Guinness PRO14 final defeat at the hands of Leinster last weekend, Dan McFarland gave his squad a cut-off of Tuesday lunch-time before it was time to turn the page and focus on the next huge game in their season - Sunday afternoon's trip to four-time European champions Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.

Such is the unique nature of this pandemic-impacted season, it is unlikely any team will ever again have to prepare for a Champions Cup last-eight clash off the back of a losing effort in a domestic final - let alone the two games being eight days apart against two sides who have ruled Europe a combined eight times - but McFarland knows his side can only play the cards they are dealt. No matter how tough that seemed earlier in the week.

"'Get over it', that's what my missus says," McFarland joked.

"Danielle would rather I wasn't so miserable but the consequences are obviously a huge thing. You win a final and it lives with you, it doesn't matter whether you're a player or a coach. It's there, no one can ever take it away from you.

"I was proud of the guys and the work they did to get to the final, it's no small achievement, but it's not quite the same (as winning), let's face it.

"The consequences are very big and not having the good result weighs on you. It's difficult.

 

"With any loss, and I mean in life, there's a process of grieving and catharsis that you need to go through, certainly I do anyway. I think the 48 hours after the final were as difficult as I've done in a long time.

"But you have to go through that. I've a process I go through in terms of work, I do a lot of thinking, a bit of talking, and at some point you get through it.

"What you need to do to move forward becomes apparent and what you need to do to move forward becomes clear.

"It has to be done. We're not taking a week off here, we're going to Toulouse for a big-time game."

It was hearing his scrum-half Alby Mathewson address a fans' forum on Monday evening looking ahead to the trip - originally scheduled for April - when McFarland felt the switch flick for himself. For his team, he sensed, it was nothing more meaningful than a break for lunch.

"Everybody deals with it differently," he said.

"We have a little system of doing it in the way that we schedule things. When everybody is a bit miserable, all a bit down, some (players) pick guys up, others might not have performed well, but the morning is for review.

"That's our four hours of catharsis where we suck it up, we face down what we didn't get right, we acknowledge that we weren't good enough and decide on what we need to do to get better.

"Then we have some lunch and then bang, it's Toulouse.

"We came back and it's thinking about the team that's won the Champions Cup the most, the one who has won the Bouclier de Brennus 20 times. That's a great thing to focus the mind."

Ulster's analysis of Toulouse will have only served to confirm that the French giants are getting back to their very best, the next generation of stars at the Stade Ernest Wallon on their way to proving suitable heirs to those of the side's glory years.

Having recaptured the Top 14 title in 2019, they have now set their sights on a first European crown since 2010.

"(They'll) pose a big challenge for us," McFarland said. "The off-load game is not something that we've necessarily faced since playing Connacht (last month) and these guys are a little bit different in terms of their offloads because theirs is just by dominating you physically and big men being able to get their hands free, whereas with Connacht it's more ball movement and swift feet.

"Then there's challenges around the individual players they've got. Their nine (Antoine Dupont) is arguably the best nine in the world and their 10 (Romain Ntamack) is some player as well.

"In (Springbok World Cup star) Cheslin Kolbe they've got a threat that everybody talks about, so there is a lot of things there that we've got to focus on."

Certainly far too many for there to be any moping beyond lunch.

Belfast Telegraph