independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

VIncent Hogan: When reason goes west

‘Personal’ aspect of O’Sullivan snub far more credible than ‘technical’ grounds

You have to wonder where Eddie O'Sullivan buried the bodies, don't you? Or between whose sheets he placed that horse's head? Because, right now, Eddie has ceased to exist in Irish rugby. He has become a non-person, an unverified rumour that someone, somewhere chose to draw a line through.

It's as if the entire life story of our longest-serving national coach has, miraculously, been unwritten.

If O'Sullivan didn't warrant at least an interview from Connacht, it begs the question of whether they are looking for a coach or a scratch-card? Just imagine his kind of CV landing in the post with a Kiwi's name on top.

Would they be inviting him to a chat or already showing him around Galway houses?

I have avoided comment on O'Sullivan's predicament for the obvious reason that I ghosted his book and, frankly, consider him a good friend. But Eddie himself broke the awkward silence this week. He spoke of his disappointment at not being able "to discuss the vision I had for Connacht".

Fine, if the province listened and decided to look elsewhere, but to declare him unworthy of a hearing?

Now, at the very least, Connacht can be accused of wretched manners here. O'Sullivan, after all, discovered through a journalist that he was not being granted an interview a full week before receiving formal correspondence from the Branch.

His application, apparently, fell down on "technical and personal" grounds. Now how on earth Connacht could adjudicate on the technical merit of O'Sullivan's application without giving him the opportunity to present it is anyone's guess. Actually, worse, it smacks of negligence.

Here, lest we forget, is a man with experience in every grade of rugby, one who coached Ireland to three Triple Crowns, whose team won seven out of every 10 games played in the Six Nations between 2002 and 2008 and had an 83pc success rate (10 wins, two losses) in autumn internationals. Here is a man with Lions experience, a man who coached the US to box dramatically above their weight at the last World Cup, one who even his most strident media critic routinely describes as "a world-class coach".

Not technically up to speed for Connacht?

No, the "personal" aspect of O'Sullivan's rejection is the more credible one by far. Maybe Eddie needed to schedule more smiles into his routine when Irish coach or perhaps he needed to turn more press conferences into stand-up. It's long been clear that his demeanour was maybe too business-like, too challenging for some.

Put simply, Eddie never took the scenic route when putting a point across. Candour became his calling card.

One of the best pieces of sports television seen this year was the TG4 documentary on Connacht's maiden Heineken Cup adventure, 'The West's Awake'. It provided a bird's eye view of life in a dressing-room accustomed to heartache. Connacht lost 14 games on the bounce before, finally, breaking their duck on an emotional Galway night against Harlequins.

Eric Elwood's love shone like a beacon from start to finish. The accents of his players were endlessly diverse, but Elwood was so palpably of those wet streets thronged around the Sportsground, it felt as if he gave the team its beating heart.

But Connacht are in tricky water now. Eric leaves at the season's end and, with their best players drawing beady stares from the other provinces, they will need something more from their next coach than a southern hemisphere twang and a bought-with-a-coupon reputation to stay afloat.

There is no long-term future in every game feeling like the Alamo.

But, in dismissing Eddie O'Sullivan without an interview, Connacht have made a quite remarkable declaration. They have said that they already have access to a better calibre of candidate and that all the wisdom and nous sitting untapped on their doorstep in Moylough is of no great interest to them.

Think about that and find the sense in it. I can't.

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