Over a traditional breakfast at the Dunadry Hotel near Templepatick, former Ulster Rugby Head Coach Brian McLaughlin (now Academy Schools Coach) talked about Lions to Lions and their guests from the Antrim Lions Club. In the course of an hour, Brian revealed his passion for rugby and answered questions about his favourite sport (apart from tennis!). Asked if he had sent a Christmas card to the Director of Rugby David Humphreys he quipped “Yes, but I didn’t put a stamp on it!”
An indication that the parting of the waves in February last year and the subsequent appointment of New Zealander Mark Anscombe was not entirely amicable. At a media conference at the time, McLaughlin made it clear he was disappointed at being replaced as senior team boss and described his switch to the academy as a sideways move. A day later he clarified that his new position was an important role he took seriously and to which he would bring extensive experience.
Brian gave the Antrim Lions an insight into just how experienced he is when it comes to rugby. He started playing with his home town club Ards where he was a back-row forward alongside Ireland stars Philip Matthews and Nigel Carr before injury interrupted his career. He had success at Ulster and Ireland age group level winning the Five Nations Grand Slam alongside O’Sullivan in the early 1990s. His other coaching duties included spells at Malone and Instonians. He also guided then Division Two team Ballynahinch to a series of titles in 2008/09. Hinch won the AIB All-Ireland Cup by beating Cork Constitution and topped the Ulster Senior League, took the Ulster Senior Cup and won promotion to Division One of the All-Ireland League. They have just won division 1B of what is now the Ulster Bank League and will be back in the top flight (1A) next season.
Brian is most recognised, however, for his work at schools level. He coached Wallace High School (Lisburn) to a couple of cup finals and then guided RBAI (Inst) to seven cup finals in 12 years, winning five of them. He also won the inter-provincial title with the Ulster Under-21 side where he coached Rory Best. McLaughlin was appointed to the top job in Ulster in June 2009. He was supported by the same backroom staff who were in position at Ravenhill under Matt Williams, with Jeremy Davidson and former pupil at Wallace Neil Doak his main assistants.
He gave his views on some of the players he had coached and the one he most admired for his commitment to training was former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, who he hoped would be included in the British and Irish Lions squad later this year. Funds raised from the breakfast go to Lions Club charities. You can find out more about Antrim Lions Club here.