'We've lost a good man' - Mark McCall, Ireland and the non-existent man-hunt
"And never a truer word spoken."
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall is one of the best rugby tacticians and organisers in Europe but has never seriously been in the Ireland conversation.
There was a moment, in between segments on Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, when Andrew Trimble turned and asked, in exasperation, how come McCall is never seriously in the conversation for Ireland's top coaching job.
"It's because he's from Ulster," I replied. "If he was from Munster or Leinster, his name would come up all the time."
Trimble, Ulster's record caps holder, initially thought I was having a dig until I reaffirmed my point. The media, I said, don't pay too much attention to McCall because most, on this island, concern themselves with Munster and Leinster. That is where so many of their readers are from, and are concerned about, so the need is being serviced.
Nothing against McCall - he is a top-class coach - but being an Ulsterman now coaching over in England puts him out of mind for long stretches. Saracens are often seen as a collective; a machine. McCall is sometimes perceived as the many who keeps it well oiled. He does so much more than that, as Saracens players and coaches were only too keen to tell us after they conquered Leinster at the weekend.
Much like Saracens' breakdown menace Maro Itoje, McCall's hands are everywhere.
Under McCall, as first team coach then director of rugby, Sarries have won four Premiership titles and three European Cups. His name was mentioned as a candidate to replace Declan Kidney, near the end of his tenure, but then-Leinster coach Joe Schmidt was the resounding choice for fans, pundits and the bulk of the Ireland squad.
Schmidt is stepping back from coaching after the World Cup but there was no open round of interviews. The job is going internally, to Andy Farrell. McCall was never in the frame.
On House of Rugby [from 33:00 below] Trimble and Barry Murphy discussed McCall's 2008 departure from Ulster. It is a topic Ulster captain Rory Best also speaks well about.
The day after Ulster qualified for the Guinness PRO14 semi final, Rory Best was in Dublin for the league's awards ceremony. Looking back on his one and only league triumph, to date, it was noted that Mark McCall was the head coach.
Asked how it was that a home-grown, league-winning coach was allowed to leave the province just 18 months later, Best commented:
"Unfortunately for us, the whole setup around him was quite inexperienced. From S&C to the coaches under Mark. Unfortunately when the pressure came on, that’s when you need experience to guide the ship a little bit. I think Ulster Rugby didn’t surround Mark with that.
"We probably underestimated how well we had done to win the league. And when a few things went wrong the next year it all seemed to fall apart quite quickly. Ask a lot of the players who played under Mark, they were under no illusions how great a coach he was."
Trimble was part of that league winning team, too, and he reflected on the moment McCall left Ulster.
In conversation with Barry Murphy, Trimble mused on why Ireland have never come calling for the Co. Down native.
BARRY: There were, actually, on TV talking about Mark McCall and why wasn't he offered the Ireland job. Or at least talked about. Maybe he was, but do you need to look any further than him, for what's achieved, and...
ANDREW: I mean, his family are probably... I don't know. I never kept in touch with him. But I would imagine that his family are pretty settled. He's onto a good thing. He's probably just going to continue to win Premierships and European Cups. What's not to like about that lifestyle?!
BARRY: Did he leave on a bad terms with Ulster, slightly? Or the IRFU, probably.
ANDREW: Yeah, slightly I don't think he wanted to leave (Ulster). I don't know. I just remember the CEO came into the office, or into the meeting, and said 'Mark's handed in his resignation, effective immediately'. And he... Mike Reid it was, at the time, said, "In my opinion, we've lost a good man". And never a truer word spoken.
McCall and former Ulster forward Jeremy Davidson went to Castres, after McCall left the province, and the pair steered the French side into the following season's Heineken Cup. Saracens came calling, after that, and he has yet to look back.
The case for Schmidt was extremely strong, in 2013, but it was odd that the IRFU went straight to Farrell with the job offer when, in McCall, there was another clear and outstanding candidate.
Like so many Irish players, such as Zebo, Madigan and Ryan, it appears to be a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'.
CHECK OUT THAT MARK MCCALL DISCUSSION FROM 33:00