Replacing coach McLaughlin will prove Ulster’s folly

A school team once failed to control their snorts of laughter when a PE teacher informed them that the secret to success in football could be boiled down to one word: “Hard work.”

In Cavan, the players gathered in a room and decided their manager wasn’t good enough and had to go. Somewhere in Meath, a similar discussion took place between county officials, who reached the same verdict.

Getting rid of men is a shady business. It’s done behind backs and the main perpetrators are never identified.

Last week, journalists struggled to keep pace with the swift and sweeping changes. Thursday brought the night of the long knives. By Friday morning, most of the manoeuvring was complete.

Banty would be on his way out, Boylan to replace him and Val Andrews had fallen on his sword.

There are many within the GAA who believe the machinations which took place in Cavan and Meath last week reflect badly on the organisation.

Seamus McEnaney, a very likeable and honourable man, was given the Meath job on a two-year contract.

The men who looked Banty in the eye and gave him the post asked him to tender his resignation.

Val Andrews is another fine, upstanding individual.

A philosopher who delivers his pearls of wisdom in a thick Dublin drawl.

I like and respect both men and it is unfortunate to see both being shafted midway through the season. And yes, it is an unpleasant carry-on.

And yes, it is ruthless and callous, and feelings will be hurt and relationships will be fractured. This is all true.

But, and here is another equally unpalatable truth, it is also completely understandable.

While the GAA retains an amateur ethos, it has become increasingly professional. And there is nothing more clinical and cruel than professional sport which is all about results.

Getting rid of Val Andrews and trying to get rid of Seamus McEnaney isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference to the immediate fortunes of either county.

No Cavan captain will be lifting the Anglo-Celt Cup, and, with or without Sean Boylan, Meath will not be winning the All-Ireland title.

The weaknesses in both counties will not be remedied by the knee-jerk responses.

Considered ‘better’ because they were outsiders, they were brought in to provide a catch-all solution. When they failed to perform miracles, they became the ‘catch-all problem’. And so they get ditched.

It’s a mirror image of what happens across the water in professional soccer every week.

If the results aren’t good, the manager needs to watch his back, as the knife can come from either the changing room (Cavan) or the boardroom (Meath).

But the same cannot be said for the utter madness that has taken place in Ulster rugby.

When the directors at Ravenhill appointed Brian McLaughlin as the replacement for Australian Matt Williams, they had taken a leaf from the successful GAA counties and adopted a self-help approach.

Tired of placing their trust in foreigners, they opted for the native ofNewtownards, who led Belfast Inst to seven Schools’ Cupfinals in 12 years, winning five of them.

McLaughlin was brought in to bring Ulster to the next level.

Last year, he guided them into the last eight for the first time since 1999, succeeding where his predecessors had failed.

Yet despite the fact that he was delivering the all-important results, he was moved aside.

What has happened since then is even more incredible.

Normally, when professional players realise that the head coach is a lame duck, the performances plummet.

Look at how Tottenham have nose-dived ever since the players realised Harry Redknapp will not be in charge next season.

In contrast, Ulster’s players have exceeded themselves under a manager who will be gone at the end of the season.

A fortnight ago they beat Munster in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, the first team to ever record a victory in Thomond during the knockout stages of the competition. Mark Anscombe, the unheralded and unheard of New Zealander who will take over, appears to have no better qualifications or experience than the man he will replace.

It seems the oft-mistaken belief that the outside manager is the better manager isn’t the sole preserve of GAA committee rooms.

Val Andrews and Banty McEnaney were hired hands who didn’t get results.

Brian McLaughlin, one of our own, got the results — yet he’s still been sent packing.

This is one of the rare instances when the GAA can look at another sporting organisation and say: “That’s insane.” And they sing ‘Stand Up For the Ulstermen’ at Ravenhill.

Those words must ring hollow in the ears of Brian McLaughlin.

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