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Logan departs Ulster role after finding it impossible to deliver on his big goals

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Aim for the moon and you may hit a star... or so say the quasi-motivational posters attempting to inspire bleak classrooms and offices the world over.

It may well have been what Shane Logan was thinking when he first sat behind the big desk at Kingspan Stadium and outlined what his plans were to take Ulster Rugby forward.

"Whatever plan we put together has to deliver Ulster being top of the pile in Ireland, Europe and indeed the world," said the new CEO in 2010 before doubling down. The northern province would, he added, become a "world-class organisation on and off the pitch."

That was eight years ago now but by the time he walked away from Kingspan Stadium yesterday, if you'd heard the old 'best team in the world? They might not even be the best team in Ulster' joke once then you'd surely heard it 1,000 times.

His aggrandizing statements were used as a stick to beat him with when things turned sour, as they seemed to at every turn last year, and indeed it wasn't just fans who aired their misgivings. Former stalwarts like Stephen Ferris, Neil Best and Paddy Wallace all made their feelings known too.

While there is nothing wrong with lofty goals, the bombast was only the start of a complicated relationship between Logan the CEO and Logan the public figure that reached an apparent nadir earlier this year.

With Director of Rugby Les Kiss gone in January, quickly followed by his supposed replacement Jono Gibbes, the radio silence from the supposed chief of the organisation was not a good look, there would be no meetings with the media and a once visible figure became conspicuous by his absence.

When he eventually emerged in March, the timing, tone and method of delivery were all wrong on an almost incalculable level. A self-managed YouTube statement on in-house media channels, released as Ireland were in the process of clinching a Six Nations title, and that made a tenuous link between a mere game and atrocities of war and 'The Troubles' left many instantly nostalgic for the time when things had gone oddly quiet.

If there was a feeling on more than one occasion last year that Ulster couldn't get out of their own way, more often than not it seemed as if it was a problem coming from the top down. PR crises were 10 a penny and something had to give.

When put to him by this newspaper that his position had become untenable less than two months ago, he rejected the notion out of hand.

"My role is not in question. A CEO, in both good times and in difficult times, has to find the way to move forward. In my eight years, we've had six and a half years and we've had a very tough last year. What we have to do is keep moving on towards positive territory. No organisation goes through universally good times, it's how we respond to the bad times that defines us," he said.

"My role is to keep us moving on to the best possible territory. We will back our academy, we will back our investment. If we look at recruitment, we'll have Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and Will Addison, we might potentially have more and if we take Marcell Coetzee hopefully back next season, I think there is considerable reason for optimism. It won't be easy but I think we'll do the best that we possibly can."

While circumstances may have changed since then, especially with Dublin seemingly taking a greater grip over hirings and firings, the writing felt on the wall then, whether Logan would admit it or not, and the increasingly rare utterances became harder to believe as matters wore grimly on. Even the references to "win ratios" in yesterday's statement gave a hollow ring.

Despite righting the ship somewhat in the season's final five games to at least ensure Champions Cup qualification for 2018/19, Ulster fell well short of Logan's lofty goals and he walks away from Kingspan Stadium with few pats on the back from those outside the organisation.

The flip side, of course, is that it's hard to imagine who could have come out of last season smelling of roses given the off-field strife, and there is little denying that Ulster's standing now is better than when he took over.

Given the blurred lines of job titles and responsibilities, detractors will always be able to claim that the successes were in spite rather than because of him, but it would take something of an air-brushing of history to deny he leaves, at worst, a complex legacy.

While there was already money earmarked for a new stadium when he took over, Ravenhill has been revamped and renamed under his watch, while the province turned a profit for seven years, no mean feat in a sport constantly competing for eyeballs and battling the lure of bigger wages on offer abroad. Operating on a sound financial footing, local rugby fans were able to enjoy seeing the likes of Fiji, the Barbarians and the Women's Rugby World Cup on home soil too. While the ultimate dream of bringing the men's World Cup to Ireland and Kingspan fell short, there were some commendable moments.

Furthermore, complicating matters is the reality that this move, no matter how seemingly seismic, will bring little change on the pitch in the short-term.

Regardless of how vehemently a fanbase protests, it's a stretch to suggest Ulster could be a better or worse team come the first PRO14 game of 2018/19 for the events of yesterday. Just as nobody was writing gushing tributes to Mick Dawson when Leinster won the Champions Cup and PRO14, it would be foolish to cite Logan as the chief architect of Ulster's struggles to match their more successful neighbours, and as such, it's unlikely his absence next season will do anything to improve results.

At any rate, the cleaning of house now seems to be complete. From this time a year ago, a Director of Rugby, a head coach, a group of experienced players who had totalled over 1,000 outings for the side, and a number of previously key back-room staff have all departed.

Even the mascot decided this season would be his last. Many have yet to be replaced and now too a new CEO is required.

While Dan McFarland will be the incoming head coach, the date of his arrival remains a point of conjecture, while there have been only three players signed ahead of next season.

A CEO, it appears, will be in by the end of August, but it is hard not to be struck by the volume of change in key positions over the past 18 months.

With so few who have their hands muddied by past failures, there is arguably a virtually clean slate.

But there is no doubt, too, that it arrives only at a crossroads.

Belfast Telegraph

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