Brightest hope for Irish rugby
THIS time last year there were calls for Declan Kidney to break away from his hallmark conservatism to infuse the international rugby squad with young blood.
There was enough fresh-faced youth in the camp, if the Irish coaching and management staff had wanted to try a creative approach to team bonding by forming a boy band - they could even bust out their own version of One Direction’s “Live While We’re Young”.
The catchy tune may be about the heady excitement of young love but there was a certain eager anticipation from some of the usually more world weary members of the travelling Irish media ahead of the first test against New Zealand about Kidney’s more daring than usual selection that included Munster’s Simon Zebo making his test debut on the wing on what turned out to be an ill-fated night.
The injection of youth did prove fruitful in the uncapped test against Fiji in Thomond Park with Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall all sending out portents of possibly stellar futures.
A week later against Los Pumas, 21 year-old Gilroy was the star of the show, scoring the opening try and prompting much media hyperbole.
The problem with the boy band analogy is that it just tends to lend itself to stereotypes involving backs. This was also a good year for fostering forward talent. It is hard to believe that after appearing in nine out of Ireland’s ten tests in 2012 that Peter O’Mahony made his debut only last February against Italy and turned 23 only in September.
Good omens were abound for generation next of Irish rugby as we add names such as Dave Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson into the test mix with composed debuts as well as in some eyes the more controversial debuts of Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent.
Let us not forget that at the start of the Six Nations, Dave Kearney sat on the bench against the Welsh. Along with Leinster teammate Ian Madigan may be hoping at the least to be included in the summer tour to North America.
Outburst of the year
It might just be a tad harsh to tar Australian outhalf Quade Cooper as a Prima Donna but that is how some perceived the 24 year old after he lashed out on twitter, describing the current Wallabies environment under head coach Robbie Deans as “toxic”.
This led to quite a saga surrounding Cooper’s future in rugby union; this was put to bed after he signed a new contract with the ARU earlier this month.
Yet Cooper was keen to show where his affections lay, when tweeting the good news of his new deal, he posted a photograph of himself not in the national side’s gold but in Queensland red.
This public loyalty of club over country is something that is more reminiscent of soccer than rugby star. Cooper was both composed and articulate when he appeared on Fox Sports Australia both defending his controversial comments. There were also more shades of the professional football on show.
One of the New Zealand born star’s big gripes was what he believed were the lack of top-class facilities for the Wallabies compared to what he was used to with Queensland. Despite, being somewhat more soft spoken, there were some echoes of Roy Keane’s disillusionment with the FAI in how Cooper spoke about the ARU.
The issue many in the rugby community had been with how publically Cooper had expressed his opinion and that he should have aired grievances behind closed doors.
Whether you disagree or not with the star’s conduct, it may be a signifier of the changing tides of professionalism, with perhaps younger and future generations of professionals becoming more outspoken in their dealings with the media.
Who will be putting their hands up for the Lions in 2013?
With Cooper’s contracts tidied up Down Under, he may be very much in the frame to try to inflict pain on the visiting Lions next summer.
Over the last few months, speculation has been bubbling from fans and pundits alike as to the composition of the touring party.
One Irish name that seemed almost a foregone conclusion for inclusion was Tommy Bowe but, with his recent surgery, this could open the door for Gilroy. Kidney’s selection at wing during the Six Nations is bound to paint a clearer picture.
At times Donnacha Ryan was the unsung hero of Irish rugby in 2012. If he continues to execute some of the less glamorous aspects of the game as well in the coming months, he will hoping that Warren Gatland will give him the call-up.