Timoney surprised at timing of McFarland’s departure as Ulster head coach

‘There were far more good times than bad times’ says back row

Pacemaker Press 26-02-2024:  
Ulster Rugby’s Back Row Nick Timoney pictured during a press preview of the upcoming BKT United Rugby Championship Origins Round 11 fixture against Dragons at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.
Nick Timoney has warned Ulster won’t be doing anything revolutionary against the Dragons on Saturday night in their first game since McFarland’s departure

Nick Timoney was surprised at the timing of Dan McFarland’s departure and felt the former head coach had turned Ulster from basket cases into serious contenders for silverware both at home and in Europe.

McFarland took over at Ulster following a turbulent end to the 2018 season which saw two coaches depart and former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll label the northern province as a ‘basket case.’

Having been prised for his job as Scotland assistant coach, McFarland steadied the ship reaching a PRO14 final and the last four in the European Challenge Cup.

However his failure to win a trophy during his six-year stint at Kingspan Stadium and a run of six defeats in his last nine games saw him lose his job last week.

“There were some great times and not so great times obviously in the last few months and feel that that’s the overriding feeling,” commented Timoney.

“But I think the end of ‘18, ‘19, ‘20, ‘21 even ‘22 there were far more good times than bad times and I really felt like we were on the cusp of something special and probably look back to that semi-final in 2022 in the league and if we’d won that, we conceded with the last play of the game and they scored the conversion, if we’d won that with a home final I mean it could have been great.”

“It didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to, and we wouldn’t have wanted to part ways mid-season and it all seems a bit turbulent but there were some great times, and he took us to some good places and it’s probably the strongest we’ve been for the last decade probably under Dan.”

Timoney has warned Ulster won’t be doing anything revolutionary against the Dragons on Saturday night in their first game since McFarland’s departure.

“There’s that realisation then when things are changing a bit, do you change everything or do you recognise that a lot of the stuff you do probably does work and it’s just maybe that three or four per cent of things you want to change.

Nick Timoney dives over to score the third Ulster try during their 20-13 European Cup Pool 1 Round 5 victory over La Rochelle in January 2018. Photo by John Dickson
Nick Timoney has insisted there were good times under former head coach Dan McFarland

“There’s been a lot of excitement and everyone wants to get out and show the best of themselves and play good rugby and try and hopefully get a good win but I think that understanding is there that no game is going to be easy and if you go in hap-hazardly and think things will come off you haven’t necessarily been working on that’s maybe foolish.”

“So, incremental changes will be the goal and obviously we’re constantly looking to improve everything by a couple of per cent here and there and hopefully we can speed that process up as over the last while we’ve maybe struggled to do that and we’ve been up and down so there’s an element of pragmatism to the excitement that we also want to bring.”

“It feels like every game the way of the league is, is going to be massive but especially this week because obviously of the changes and we want to give the fans the sign that we still mean business and that we’re not taking it easy and not taking this as a transitional anything, we still think we can get back on course and that we’re contenders.

Despite sitting eighth in the table Timoney still believes Ulster can win the league this season.

“It probably helps what Munster did last year, they were probably in a similar position at some point last season where they were not really firing on all cylinders, and they brought it back and ended up winning the league from finishing fifth and I think there’s nothing that suggests that we couldn’t do something similar this year.”