Murphy believes it's time to cut O'Connor some slack ahead of defining contest
Published 18/04/2015 | 02:30
Geordan Murphy doesn't feel sorry for his former Leicester Tigers coach Matt O'Connor. He doesn't feel sorry for him because he thinks the criticism he is shipping as Leinster boss is "ridiculous". In fact, he reckons Matt is "on a hiding to nothing" ahead of Leinster's semi-final against Toulon tomorrow.
And when I asked him if Leinster fans should cut O'Connor some slack, he replied "100 per cent".
I was a little surprised by Geordan's strong support for Matt. I've interviewed Geordan on countless occasions. I even rang him one evening in Bordeaux during the 2007 Rugby World Cup to find out if there was any truth in the rumour that he had left the Ireland squad. Geordan, as well-mannered as always, laughed off my query. And he didn't seem to take any offence to the baseless rumour flying around about him. Or that I had asked him about it directly.
But when I spoke to Geordan this week, I've never heard the former Ireland full-back as animated. The fact that he took time out from a brief holiday abroad to do an interview probably shows the extent to which he was willing to back Matt.
This isn't about me looking to get an ex-Tigers player from the Leicester boot-room to drum up support or otherwise for Matt. I wanted to talk to a man who has no current ties with O'Connor but who has experience of how he works.
Geordan was one of the most naturally-talented Irish backs so his opinion of Matt as an attacking coach should also hold weight ("innovative" was how he described him).
And if you think it's obvious that Geordan would support Matt, then it's also important to know that Matt was the man who sat Geordan down and told him that his playing days with Leicester were coming to an end.
The respect Geordan has for Matt is clear. He was at the Aviva Stadium two weekends ago for Leinster's quarter-final win over Bath and he couldn't believe the reaction of a few Leinster fans afterwards. "When it comes to a European Cup quarter-final, it's not about entertainment, it's about winning," Geordan said.
But we expect a certain level of performance from Leinster because of Joe Schmidt. So when I asked Geordan about the attention to detail Matt puts into training drills compared to Schmidt, it was easy to spot the difference. From what he's heard about the Ireland head coach, Geordan admits that "while Schmidt will show you how to clear out a ruck at training, O'Connor just expects you to do it".
Leinster fans don't want their team to bend back towards the bad old days. We saw the way Leinster players performed for Ireland during the Six Nations: Sean O'Brien with his bullocking runs against Scotland and the deft hands of big Dev Toner. Not to mention Luke Fitz in that Murrayfield game.
But Leinster are, currently, not the sum of their parts. Yes, they haven't been allowed to be at times with injuries, player welfare rest days, Six Nations etc. But look through their team-sheet and they've got some of the best players in Europe wearing blue tomorrow.
What we have seen over the past few months is players fronting up in their public support of Matt. From Fitzgerald to Jamie Heaslip to Jimmy Gopperth with his line this week that "we owe it to Matt and the coaching staff. They're the ones who get shot in the foot, so to speak, if things don't go well".
These words are nothing like the dreaded 'backing from the chairman' red-alerts in the Premier League. But they're obviously not the kind of soundings players in a winning set-up are forced to make.
When Matt had his first press conference at Leinster in August 2013, he was asked about the style he wanted Leinster to play. Matt said the brand would be "pretty similar" to the way Leinster played in the previous three or four seasons.
Unfortunately, I don't need to expand on how that has worked out.
When it comes to hangin' tough, Matt has probably had no better schooling than his days with Leicester. From the five seasons Geordan spent working with him, he believes he won't let the criticism get to him.
"He's a very strong character and he has to keep going with his beliefs."
Geordan believes Matt is the right fit for Leinster. Some Leinster fans are probably wondering about the disconnect between the way they feel and what Geordan thinks as the season distils down to this one match against Toulon in Marseille tomorrow.
"The important thing is new ideas, not money. You always want to be the team that can beat the one with more money."
It wasn't Matt who said this about playing Toulon. That quote was from Jurgen Klopp about Bayern Munich. Klopp announced this week that he's leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer because he no longer felt he was "the perfect coach for this extraordinary club".
The Leinster players certainly have what it takes to win tomorrow. If they don't play to their potential as a group after a poor league season, then maybe Matt will have to ask himself a similar question: is he the perfect coach for this extraordinary club?