Time for young guns to step up
Published 06/06/2014 | 02:30
It's great to finish off a season with silverware. It gives both a sense of satisfaction and relief. However, once both of these feelings dissipate, any professional team will always look at what was left behind and how to improve for next year.
Toulon stands out as Leinster's biggest failure of the campaign. The Heineken Cup has been Leinster's biggest goal every season and judged on their record in the competition in recent years, ultimate success in this competition is the barometer set by both players and fans alike.
This week, Matt O'Connor spoke about the need for more foreign players to assist Leinster's performances in Europe next year. This, of course, goes against IRFU policy, which protects and promotes homegrown talent within the provincial structures.
You can understand O'Connor's concern. While Noel Reid and Jordi Murphy have been outstanding products of the Leinster academy system this year, like any other system, it takes time to bed in – time that O'Connor doesn't have.
Professional sport is tough, not so much because of the tragic retirement of Stephen Ferris through injury and also the recent retirement of Connacht's Craig Clarke, but because everything is performance-based.
Coaches rarely have more than a two-year contract and players, if they're lucky, have only a 10-year playing career.
O'Connor has one year left on his contract and needs to put a team together to win the European Cup within this time.
The World Cup comes at the end of a cycle when many coaches are available and have plied their trade on the biggest trade show rugby can deliver.
For Leinster, the only option will be to recruit from within. There are players that will step up to the mark following the retirement of others.
This summer, Girvan Dempsey will need to burn the midnight oil on viable options that he has guided successfully through 'A' level and are ready to join the Leinster senior squad.
For years, we watched the Kearney brothers, Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip bring Leinster to another level of performance after they themselves had blossomed looking up to players when they were at Academy level.
Now it's time for the younger tyros to experience playing with their heroes and pick up all the tricks of the trade.
Season 2014/15 is going to be interesting. The reality is that life after Brian O'Driscoll is going to be different from anything this group of players and coaches has ever known.
but all is not lost, sometimes change is good. The forwards will still have Leo Cullen barking orders, both on the training field and on the sideline. The Leinster pack is very strong, has huge experience and world-class personnel.
So, what about the back-line?
The reason for Leinster's success in the past has not just been because of their winning mentality, but because of the manner and style of play the fans in the RDS expect to see.
This comes from each player knowing the body language of their team-mates, which leads to a trust that allows them to carve open the opposition.
The current Leinster team have fallen short in this area this year, save for last weekend and also the brilliant efforts at Franklin's gardens in December.
More often than not, winning ugly got them over the line – but this won't be acceptable long term.
Currently, both Ireland and Leinster have a group of 30 world-class players and this has afforded both teams a level of consistency – Leinster over the past few seasons and certainly Ireland this season.
The IRFU policy maintains that Irish players are protected in their province and only crucial positions, where there is a lack of suitable talent available, can be replaced by foreign candidates.
This policy, coupled with the introduction of David Nucifora, has highlighted the IRFU's commitment to the game in Ireland. Both the development, protection and success of players in Ireland over the past while will be crucial for the World Cup 2015. Players will have to walk a tightrope next year with regard to getting adequate game-time and adequate rest and recovery – seasons are long and World Cup seasons are longer still.
As the campaign comes to a close, there has never been more discussion items for the scribes.
Sexton has hinted at a possible contract extension at racing metro and is looking forward to playing Argentina feeling fresh.
He has proved himself as a poster boy for the professional game, with his ambition and hunger to win having no boundaries.
His contribution to the success of Leinster has been unquantifiable. He needs to be back on home soil and the sooner it's organised, the better for Irish and Leinster rugby.
I cannot remember any time in the past when a member of the Irish coaching staff voluntarily retired.
It can be said that John Plumtree came, saw and conquered. Rarely has a forwards coach made such an impact. He will be missed and the Irish pack are better for the time he spent with them.
The Leinster folk got a chance to mourn the end of O'Driscoll's career as he slowly walked off the pitch last weekend. no doubt every person watching had a BOD moment flashing through their mind.
Munster folk never had this opportunity with Ronan O'Gara and, unfortunately through injury, Ulster will never again see the game-changing tackles of Ferris.
Professional sport is cruel, but, hopefully, cruel to eventually be kind.
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