Thursday 25 May 2017

New coaching set-up can bring us back to where we belong after lost years

Leo Cullen has welcomed change of attitude towards concussion
Leo Cullen has welcomed change of attitude towards concussion

Victor Costello

Since the news broke that Leo Cullen had officially taken over as head coach, there has been plenty of discussion on how this will affect Leinster's chances of returning to the top.

The Leinster fans have put up with a torrid two seasons and their loyalty has been tested by inadequate performances by a more than adequate squad of players.

The players continued to champion the cause of Matt O'Connor and there was no doubt about his popularity among the squad, but unfortunately this loyalty took two years out of their careers - which, on average, only last ten years in professional rugby.

The word underperformed will not sit well with anyone who has been involved with Leinster over the last 20 years as it's a tag that has been long forgotten, and a lot of work and success went in to making sure this was so.

Leo as a player was one of many who put a lot of work into casting off those tags and as a coach I would expect no different.

Leo was always a favourite with the crowd because of his performance as a player and as a captain.

When he joined Leinster in the late '90s he had a battle to secure his position in the side, but after a short time he was a dominant fixture on the team sheet.

The many plaudits that land at an ex-player's feet as he steps into the realms of coaching are forgotten when the season starts but there has never been a more intelligent forward on the field of play than Cullen.

Battle

His reading of the game in the heat of battle was of such a high standard; the same will surely apply on the sidelines.

For me, the one attribute that will prove Leo's success for Leinster is his incredible work ethic - the same attribute that has worked for the best coaches before him.

While Leo's appointment has been the flagship, the other back-room staff have probably 500 Leinster caps between them. This is great for the coaching development structure set-up in the country as it puts a lot of passion and emotion back into the coaching box.

Every member of this coaching team has given blood, sweat and tears to the Leinster cause. Furthermore, the knowledge of the up-and-coming academy players from John Fogarty and Girvan Dempsey will prove invaluable throughout a long season.

The return of crowd favourite Isa Nacewa is interesting. No other foreign player apart from Felipe Contepomi made such an impact on Leinster but with a two-year absence, it's a lot to ask for him to return to the heights of previous years.

The challenges ahead this season could not come at a better time.

In the Champions Cup pool stages, Leinster will pit themselves against the best of the English and French clubs.

The player drain to the World Cup will off course affect the early season, but there is ample opportunity for the younger players to get more experience, like in last week's win in Ravenhill.

The Leinster management will use this time under the radar to build a team creates competition for places when the Ireland stars return.

Honesty

With this new coaching set-up there will be plenty of clarity and honesty instilled on squad and I firmly expect the results to follow in due course.

While many of the fans were frustrated with performances and results last year the blame will always lie at the feet of the head coach; and O'Connor did not help himself in the media when scratching his head after poor results.

Kurt McQuilkin's return will no doubt shore up the defensive deficiencies.

McQuilkin's passion and pride for the Leinster team made him a great player, captain and again coach.

I suspect this season the focus and attention of the cameras will spend as much time on the coaches' dug-out as the field of play.

Irish Independent

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