Vultures circle at Edinburgh as poor second campaign has Michael Bradley pondering future
IF A week is a long time in politics, 12 months is a lifetime in professional sport.
A year ago, Michael Bradley was on the crest of a wave as he guided Edinburgh towards the Heineken Cup semi-finals. Now the Corkman finds himself on the brink of a Murrayfield exit after a desperately disappointing second season in charge.
On Sunday, his home province Munster will arrive in the Scottish capital with dreams of the quarter-finals still intact, if only just. Bradley's ambitions went out the window in October.
It has been a miserable campaign for the former Ireland scrum-half, whose team have won just four of their 17 matches this campaign and have failed to score a try in their Heineken Cup games so far.
It seems a world away from the sunny day last April when Bradley arrived in Dublin to talk about the impending semi-final meeting with Ulster and refused to speak about himself and his coaching journey. His focus was purely on Edinburgh Rugby and the brand he was helping to build.
His side had just beaten Toulouse in the quarter-finals in front of 37,881 supporters at Murrayfield and, despite a poor league campaign, the coach's stock was on the rise.
A week later, he watched his team run Ulster close at Lansdowne Road and come within three points of a first European final.
At the beginning of this campaign all the talk was of building on a first season of progress and the Scottish Rugby Union were so convinced, that they backed the coach with a substantial budget increase.
If Andy Robinson had been removed from the top job in Scotland after another disappointing Six Nations last spring, then the former Connacht man would have been one of the hot favourites to follow the English coach towards his own exit door.
However, when the former Bath supremo finally walked the plank last month, the former Ireland scrum-half's name was nowhere to be seen.
Last weekend, just over 3,000 supporters attended the insipid 31-16 defeat to Leinster at the 60,000-capacity stadium that is rendered soulless so often by it's anchor tenants.
Munster's travelling fans might boost those numbers this weekend, but the locals have long given up on their team this season.
Things have gone badly wrong this season, despite Bradley receiving a massive increase in playing budget of £600,000 that put his on par with most English Premiership clubs. Neil Back was brought in as his forwards coach, but the 2003 World Cup winner's appointment has not been universally popular.
Instead of following Ulster's lead and investing the new money in star players, the coach decided to sign a slew of decent operators to grow his squad depth.
It hasn't worked, and the consensus in Scotland right now is that Bradley will leave Edinburgh when his contract expires at the end of the season, to the extent where the debate about who will replace him is already in full swing.
The vultures are starting to circle, with many in Scotland's domestic game impatient for a domestic coach to be given the job as the grass roots appear disenfranchised by the growing English influence behind the scenes at Murrayfield.
Former Scotland out-half Craig Chalmers is one who has expressed his frustration, saying he may look to move abroad to pursue a senior job.
He, and current Gala coach George Graham, would be popular appointments and Chalmers was not shy in ramping up the pressure on Bradley this week.
"Edinburgh seem to be falling away and to really lack confidence," he said. "Last year their backs looked good because they were playing off a solid platform, but this year they're making a lot of basic handling errors, turning the ball over cheaply and missing a lot of first-up tackles, which is always the sign of a side struggling for confidence.
"My chances at Edinburgh?" he replied when asked about the potential future vacancy. "You'd have to ask someone at the SRU – I'd obviously love the chance to coach Edinburgh full-time but last time I applied I didn't even get an interview.
"Of course I'll apply (again), but it seems that some players get into coaching quite easily, perhaps because they've got the right affiliations, and then there's me."
As his former club Connacht near appointing a new coach in the coming week, Bradley must be wondering what his next step will be.
He retains the support of a number of players in the dressing-room, but their results have let him down badly.
There is plenty of this season to go but with Edinburgh out of the Heineken Cup and fourth from bottom in the Pro12, things look bleak for Bradley ahead of the visit of his hometown club.