Peter Jackson: ‘Quiet Man’ Mark McCall putting down marker for Irish coaches

Not for the first time, the ‘unbelievable’ Mark McCall stands out on his own in Europe this morning which makes a change from being out on his ear in Ireland.
Peter Jackson: ‘Quiet Man’ Mark McCall putting down marker for Irish coaches

The Ulsterman, who has good reason to know how it feels to be a prophet without honour in his own land, will finish the European season doing what no Irish coach has done before.

All he has to do is turn up at Murrayfield on May 13 for his third Champions’ Cup final in a row.

Until last weekend, only one Irish head coach-cum-director of rugby had got that far more than once, Declan Kidney with Munster in 2006 and again in 2008.

The second triumph came shortly before McCall and Ulster parted company with his native province who were bottom of what was then the Celtic League.

The party line at Ravenhill made it unclear whether McCall had given Ulster up as a bad job of his own free will or whether they had given up on him. Either way, his exit has proved to be the making of a man whom many good judges thought worthy of an approach from the Lions.

Under his direction in the last three seasons, Saracens have been to seven Cup finals, winning the English Premiership Grand Final twice, the Champions’ Cup once and the Anglo-Welsh. By the end of next month nobody will be surprised if they retain their European trophy and make it a hat-trick of Premierships – five major titles in four seasons.

Ulster, by contrast, have won nothing post-McCall. How has he done it? Certainly not by accident. Ever ready to learn from other theatres of sport, McCall made pilgrimages to Bayern Munich to find out what makes them tick and to the New York Jets franchise on a similar mission.

He may not belong to the same reclusive league of Howard Hughes but the former Ireland centre has a natural aversion to drawing attention to himself which must be an increasingly chronic condition given he rejects the mundane cure of losing a few matches.

Not for nothing is he known in England as The Quiet Man. At Saracens, they call him something else – unbelievable. ‘’He has an unbelievable knowledge of the game,’’ says scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth. ‘’He’s really good at letting people do what they’re good at.’’

Paul Gustard, creator of The Wolf Pack and now with England, has spoken of McCall ‘the unbelievably ferocious competitor.’’

The captain, Brad Barritt, uses the same word: ‘Unbelievable.’ It is no coincidence that under their legal eagle from Bangor, Co. Down, Saracens are growing into serial winners. Now only the yellow peril of Clermont stand between them and back-to- back Champions’ Cups which is two more than Bayern have managed in the Champions’ League since McCall went to see them.

He will sense neutrals all over Europe and, no doubt, in many parts of England, willing Clermont to win the trophy at long last and use it as another good reason for ensuring Sarries remain a cut above the rest…

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