McCaughey

Ulster interim CEO Hugh McCaughey
Coverage: Watch Ulster v Cardiff on BBC iPlayer and BBC Two NI on Friday, 19 April at 19:30 BST [Ulster Rugby]

Interim chief executive Hugh McCaughey says Ulster “have to create the best version of ourselves” and cannot imitate Leinster in their bid for success.

McCaughey replaced Jonny Petrie, who departed Kingspan Stadium in March, on a six-month contract.

It has been a turbulent season for Ulster, with head coach Dan McFarland leaving his role and high-profile signing Steven Kitshoff announcing his departure after only one season in Belfast.

“We don’t try to compete by being the same as Leinster, we have unique attributes in Ulster Rugby,” McCaughey told BBC Sport NI.

“We have to create the best pathways and youth systems from our schools so we continue the flow of players that we have.”

Leinster have been the best-performing Irish province for a number of years and Ireland’s international team features a high percentage of players from Leo Cullen’s side.

McCaughey said that “some good things are happening” at Ulster, who are without silverware since 2006.

“We’ll learn from Leinster and clubs elsewhere” he said, “but we want a successful Ulster Rugby.”

‘The best generation we’ve had since Best, Bowe & Ferris’

McCaughey added that securing a top-eight finish in the United Rugby Championship should be Ulster’s “top priority” over the remaining five fixtures, which would not only ensure a play-off spot but Champions Cup rugby for next season.

The former health trust chief says there has to be a focus on developing Ulster’s young side and predicted that, if the right foundations are put in place, the next five years could be a “fabulous ride”.

“We have to allow this team to express themselves and to grow. They are a young team,” he added.

“They won’t get it right every time and they will make mistakes. But the important thing is this side can get stronger every year for the next five years.

“It won’t be a straight line but we have to get behind and support them.

“We are at the start of an exciting journey because we have this foundation. That’s what we should focus on. The next five years are, in my mind, an upward journey.”

McCaughey coached Ulster and Ireland players at youth level and was manager of Ulster Rugby and the Irish Sevens team at the 2009 World Cup.

He says the group of Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris Chris Henry and Darren Cave – all of whom established themselves at Test level – had not been replicated from Ulster’s academy until the current crop of players.

“That was the backbone of Ulster for 10 years, but we haven’t produced a generation like that since, as a cluster of players,” added McCaughey, who said he was excited by the emergence of Tom Stewart, Tom O’Toole and David McCann.

“I think the 19 to 24-year-olds in this squad are the best generation we’ve had since then.

“I think that is the future – creating the space, creating the right systems, creating the right coaching team and creating the right culture for them to be successful and to grow. That’s the future for Ulster.”

‘Other teams have much bigger challenges’

Ulster’s financial difficulties have been well documented over the past number of years, but McCaughey said it was the same across the board in world rugby and some clubs would show “envy” at Ulster’s position.

“Part of the context people need to look at is this is across world rugby, with the possible exception of Japan and some French clubs.

“Rugby is facing financial pressures and we’re no different. We have to manage, and the money we have available or the money we generate is going to control and influence what we do.”

He added: “We can improve that and do it even better, and we have to get continually better, but the core of this team is grown from within.

“A lot of other teams who are struggling financially are having much bigger challenges.”

Steven Kitshoff warms up for Ulster Steven Kitshoff warms up for Ulster
 

The departure of World Cup-winning Springbok Kitshoff has caused concern among supporters, but McCaughey said international signings were still on the agenda to “supplement and strengthen” the squad.

However, he added that “it’s not an easy market out there”.

“It’s going to continue to be an important part of our future. We are always looking at how we can strengthen the squad.

“We have some young talented 10s [fly-halves], but if you look at the depth chart it is one of the positions that we would like to strengthen”.

McCaughey said he would “listen and engage with supporters” and when asked if would be interested in staying on on a permanent basis, he did not rule it out.

“The job is being advertised as a permanent job and I’ve agreed to do it for six months. This next six months lays the foundations for the next two seasons.

“It’s really important, and that’s why when I took this I said it has to be done as if it is permanent. We cannot afford six months when we are treading water or drifting.

“We have a lot to do, on and off the pitch, in the next six months. That’s what I’m focused on.”



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