Tough decisions part and parcel of job says Ulster boss Neil Doak

Ulster head coach Neil Doak
Ulster head coach Neil Doak

As the dust finally settles on another Guinness PRO12 campaign, Glasgow defeating Munster in Saturday’s showpiece in Belfast will not have eased the pain felt by Ulster Rugby.

The Northern Province had come so close once again to reamaining in the hunt for silverware, but once again they failed to take that final step.

The disappointment of a last gasp loss to Glasgow in the semi-finals just over a week ago still remains in the Ulster camp.

The ‘nearly men’ tag is something they have learned to live with in recent years which has seen them lose a in European Cup and PRO12 finals as well as PRO12 semi-finals and European Cup quarter-finals.

Ulster head coach, Neil Doak, like many of the players and officials involved did not settle down to watch Saturday’s final at the Kingspan Stadium.

Understandable in the circumstances given the script did not quite go the way many had planned with Belfast winning the bid to stage the first Guinness PRO12 ‘destination final.’

However, given that Ulster had secured their place in next season’s European Champions Cup and top four in the PRO12 this season two weeks before the end of the regular league campaign does still reflect a positive season on which to build.

It is almost a year now to the start of what was a turmultious summer that saw first director of rugby David Humphreys leave to take up a similar role at Gloucester and then coach, Mark Anscombe was shown the door.

Les Kiss came in on an interim basis and Doak was appointed head coach.

Kiss then left, but only after it was confirmed he would return as a director of rugby 18 months later after Ireland were finished in the Rugby World Cup.

With a tough European Cup draw and a huge change in personnel on the playing front not much was expected from Ulster.

Europe went as many had expected a first exit at the pool stages for the first time in five seasons.

But on the league front, apart from a bad blip and shock defeat in Zebre, Ulster were among the top six right through the campaign and finished fourth, before losing agonisngly to Glasgow 16-14 in the recent semi-final.

Doak has been involved in the set-up for several years in different roles since he retired as a player.

This seasaon was ultimately tougher on him. He was the front man, the go to man, and he came in quite often for some needless criticism at times.

There was still disappointment in voice last week as he reflected on the season finished, the hurt of Scotstoun still high.

“It was a frustrating season at times,” said Doak. “Last week was frustrating and it was sort of the way our season went at times.

“But I still enjoyed every minute of it. There were big challenges at times.

“We had a big injury profile at one stage and it was not just the number of injuries, but the players who were injured.

“We hardly saw Andrew Trimble this season, Iain Henderson came in late to join us and there was one stage during the European Cup that we could barely field 23 players for one of the games.

“We had to make big decisions at times.

“From the outside maybe people think it was doom and gloom at certain times of the season.

“We had to make decisions at times that were best for everyone concerned. We had a certain player base to chose from and we had to make some hard decisions at times.”

Ulster went to Toulon with an understrength side for a European Cup game, but there was little chance of them getting out of the pool at that stage.

They went to Glasgow for the final league game with a weakened side, again dictated to by their injury profile and also what was lying ahead.

“A lot of people do not see what goes on in the background here,” explained Doak.

“They are making assumptions on certain things that maybe they do not have all the information about.

“The challenges the management faced this year will hold us all in good stead for the future,” he added.