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Ulster are primed and hungry for success: McFarland


Insider: Dan McFarland is relishing facing his former side
Insider: Dan McFarland is relishing facing his former side
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Another game and another of his old clubs for Ulster head coach Dan McFarland.

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Having led his side past Connacht in the quarter-finals - the province where he enjoyed a 15-year association as both a player and forwards coach - it's on to Glasgow in the last-four on Friday night (7.35pm kick-off).

Just like the westerners, Glasgow had a profound effect on the former prop with McFarland reflecting on how leaving Galway to join up with what was then Gregor Townsend's Glasgow and his time in Scotland was key in building his readiness to step up when Ulster came calling last summer.

"My time in Glasgow was a massive growth period," he said. "I had to leave Connacht to expand my mind and expand all the coaching stuff that I hadn't sucked in.

"That was something Gregor offered straight away. His whole philosophy, his coaching mindset is about learning. Not only did I learn off Gregor and the other coaches there, but he'd also bring people into the club and, during that time, the amount of information I was taking in was bewildering. It was a great time. We didn't win anything but I won a lot of myself that's for sure."

The dynamic of switching from career assistant to leading man is an interesting one, and Ulster have been burned in the past, but McFarland appears to have handled it adroitly.

"Delivery is probably the biggest thing," he said of what he improved upon in Glasgow.

"I think in the latter years in Connacht, I did a degree in psychology and I really enjoyed the learning aspect of that but it wasn't practical. Going to Glasgow, we really focused on how we delivered.

"I went to New York and did a leaders conference in my first year which I'd never done anything like. I went to Westpoint (the US Military Academy) as part of that, effectively a university of leadership, that was all fascinating.

"A lot of the learning there came from Gregor asking people in, we had people from rugby league, southern hemisphere rugby clubs, it was all like an open book, that was a huge learning. Coaching isn't about secret squirrel. That way you only learn your own stuff. But if you share, and someone shares with you, then the onus is on you to get better."

Ulster have certainly done that under his watch. Players likely won't feel it, but there is a sense of this semi-final being something of a free-hit. That they are in the play-offs at all, let alone standing one game from the final, is an upset of most pre-season projections.

After a year of tumult, the required rebuild was assumed to require a season or two. And while the league table would indicate there is still a way to go before lumping Ulster in with the Guinness PRO14's leading lights - Leinster, Munster and Friday night's opponents Glasgow - the resolve shown by the side has carried them back into the conversation.

Having come from behind to beat both Edinburgh and Scarlets to start the season, and rescued a late draw away to the Cheetahs, McFarland's side were unbeaten through four games when they could easily have dropped three of that opening quartet of fixtures.

"A lot of it is down to the resolve of the squad of players," he said. "I think there were hard times last year but they stuck together as a unit and they learned from it.

"For me coming in, it's a question of harnessing that and pointing them in the right direction and really getting it down to the things that make it important to be part of a club.

"When you look back at the season and you think of moments that we needed to draw on reserves and resilience and fight. The first two games when we fought back and beat Edinburgh and Scarlets, both of those happened in the last minutes. We went away to the Cheetahs, in a situation where we were asked to play at altitude, five days after we played the Kings in a game (Cheetahs) that ended 39-all. There were a number of instances like that.

"Ultimately, squeezing those points out is why we are where we are. We had a points deficit, we've won 13 games, we haven't been spanking teams."

Another narrow win, no matter how it comes, you imagine, would suit McFarland just fine.

Glasgow vs Ulster

Guinness PRO14 Championship - Semi-Final

Scotstoun Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

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