Tuesday 27 September 2016

Leinster in plea for caution as stars eye exit

Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30

Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner and Fergus McFadden just before the final whistle
of their stinging defeat
Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner and Fergus McFadden just before the final whistle of their stinging defeat
Rob Kearney in pensive mood ahead of tonight’s match against Ulster
Leo Cullen: “I’d like to think that Leinster is in a completely different place now than what it was back in 2005”

It has been a decade since Leo Cullen left what was then, as he recalled again yesterday, a "chaotic" Leinster organisation.

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Ten years on and Cullen is now the coach of an organisation desperately seeking, on the field at least, to avoid chaos - and clearly not making a great fist of it in a European context at least after such a miserable start.

Some might suggest that Cullen, given his own personal experience of having to abandon the province for a stint overseas, may struggle to convincingly persuade leading agitators such as, say, Ian Madigan, to bide their time in Dublin.

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"I'd like to think that Leinster is in a completely different place now than what it was back in 2005," argued Cullen.

"Where we were at that point in time was very chaotic. So I'd like to think the organisation is in a better place to sell itself in terms of what we can deliver for players.

"I went to Leicester for very different reasons. So is it easy for me to talk from a different viewpoint, yeah it is, because it's completely different. That's ten years ago.

"And I came back in bits! So I fully understand the physical toll it takes over there. But I'd be very balanced in the advice I'd give to any player who comes and asks for my opinion."

Added to that, there is the further complication of attempting to avoid every walking doom-monger in the land suddenly scripting the impending irreversible decline of Irish rugby.

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"I think it's a pessimistic viewpoint where you'd say Irish rugby is going to struggle in the next few years," added Cullen. "There's always concerns. There's always fears.

"We have a smaller pool of players but the players get better managed here. That's a fact. For longevity, you would hope guys would look at that.

"Okay, guys might earn more in the short-term. The longer-term view is that you might get another two or three years onto my career. But it is very hard to have your crystal ball out.

"That's what we're trying here with the system that's in place in Ireland. Up until this point, it has worked reasonably well. I've been overseas before. You get flogged in comparison. I've been through that process."

Rob Kearney won his second successive Six Nations title last spring but within a calendar year forms one of a cadre of World Cup flops; sometimes it is difficult to plant one's feet in the middle ground.

"The perception is different now that the World Cup has finished but you know there were a fair few variables that made that happen, you don't become a poor team overnight," he says, even if the uninventive cliché almost undermines his argument.

"Going back to Leo's point a little bit, we cannot in this country compete financially with foreign countries, so it's important that there's strong non-financial incentives to keep us here and, as a player who has benefitted from the management, that is a big thing to keep guys here. It's important to note that it is working."

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Indeed, only two players at extreme ends of the scale - JJ Hanrahan and Paul O'Connell - have left this year as the predictably stage-managed circus of flirting and fluttering continues apace.

With pound signs screaming from always inviting back pages, Kearney, a keen advocate of player welfare given his involvement in the Players' Union, cautions a balance between self-worth and self-wealth.

"You get to play at home," said Kearney of the home comforts; no doubt will remind his out-of-contract brother of the fact, too, particularly since Rob and Dave still actually live together.

"You play with all your friends, we've got brilliant facilities. We get very well looked after. We don't flogged as Leo said. Those sort of things.

"It's all the softer stuff, aside from money, that are important when you need to re-assess about moving up and going abroad. There is a lot more to it than just the financial incentive."

Speaking about Madigan in particular, Cullen sought to dismiss any sense that he may not feel wanted at the club, despite the fact he remains a second-choice out-half and is perceived to be hampered, rather than helped, by his innate versatility.

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There was criticism that he was shoehorned into the full-back role for Leinster ahead of their home implosion against Wasps when Kearney failed a late fitness test, despite the presence of a World Cup full-back Zane Kirchner in the squad.

However, Cullen pleaded mitigating circumstances that week; nevertheless, Madigan's constant movement around the back-line - not only for club, but country too - is surely a contributor to the indecision the player feels as he contemplates his next, potentially decisive, career move.

"I'd see him as a 10-12, realistically," confirmed Cullen. However, so too did Matt O'Connor and that particularly thorny historic relationship with the player can hardly be removed from his current conjecture.

"Again, his versatility is a real strength for us as a team. He played a lot of 12 for us last year and a bit at ten and that will be very similar this year.

"We try to have those two receivers anyway so it works quite well with his skill-set and he is really good for us in that regard."

"It gets him picked more often, that's the reality. Even though he played as a 12 primarily for Leinster last year, he still stepped in at ten when Johnny (Sexton) went down at the World Cup so is it holding him back? Probably not, would be my viewpoint.

"If we feel he is the best person to play at ten on a given weekend then he will play ten. I know he played 15 against Wasps but we actually thought that Isa Nacewa would come through that week. Again, his versatility is a real strength for us as a team.

"He played a lot of 12 for us last year and a bit at ten and that will be very similar this year. We try to have those two receivers anyway so it works quite well with his skill-set."

Kearney at least reflects the feelings of most when asked about the interminable public airing of private dealing.

"The speculation is part and parcel of it all and it's probably as tedious for everyone outside Leinster as it is within Leinster."

Irish Independent

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