Thursday 18 January 2018

Bradley aiming to prove a point on Munster return

David Kelly

David Kelly

To be snubbed once by your native province is unfortunate enough. For Michael Bradley to be twice overlooked for the top job in Munster must still occasion pangs of professional regret that, to his credit, remain firmly masked from the public gaze.

Bradley has moved on, personally and professionally, from those collective cold shoulders to embark upon a coaching career elsewhere, but this week he is coming home for a flying visit.

He will return this Sunday to the province that twice flirted with appointing him to one of the most coveted posts in world rugby, but he will do so with less of a strut in his stride after the darkest weekend of his 17-month long Edinburgh tenure.

A 45-0 humiliation in Murrayfield, against the current favourites to top Heineken Cup Pool One, Saracens, has undone all the positive vibes generated by last season's remarkable run to the semi-finals of the competition.

Defeat on Sunday would all but end their prospects of again qualifying for the knock-out stages and, with their league form mirroring last season's for lack of impact, heighten the already dark mutterings being heard among the perennially downbeat Scottish rugby support.

"It's very disappointing, because we would have been quite confident that we would go well, playing at home. We were quite excited about getting back into the Heineken Cup again, and it just didn't work for us, so it was a really tough day at the office," says Bradley.


"We, as a management team, feel as though we let everybody down for sure. We have to give something back to our supporters and the club."

Heading into the lions' den of Thomond Park against a fiery Munster side, themselves bristling with vengeful intent after tossing away victory in Paris last weekend, offers little in terms of remedial encouragement.

It had all seemed so different when Bradley optimistically surveyed the season's landscape when both league and cup competitions were launched earlier in the season.

"There is pressure on because the expectation last year was not great," he said. "We had just been to the quarter-finals once, while this is the year after we got to the semis, so we feel a bit of pressure because of that.

"The pressure comes from that expectation, from the memory of 38,000 people here last year against Toulouse and the feeling that everybody would like to get back to that scenario.

"The quarter-finals and Pro12 play-offs are what we have to strive for and what drives us on and we're looking to succeed on both targets this year."

With his side marooned in Heineken Cup qualification terms -- there is little likelihood that this state of affairs will be amended this weekend -- and wallowing at ninth in the league, those twin targets already seem ambitious in mid-October.

Hence, Bradley will be afforded little time to reflect upon his failed double tilt at securing the Munster gig.

The first opportunity arrived in April 2005, when Declan Kidney had stunned Leinster by quitting and an over-energised rumour mill had Bradley positioned as Kidney's right-hand man on a Munster dream ticket.

There was even some fanciful talk that the Cork duo would replace Eddie O'Sullivan after the World Cup in France -- we all know how that particular story played out.

Alternatively, the IRFU, even then conscious of an indigenous coaching deficit, were earmarking him for the Leinster gig vacated by Kidney.

Neither event, in fact, transpired.

Leinster began their successful quest for a man named Michael Cheika, Munster rubberstamped Kidney to replace Alan Gaffney and Bradley, somewhat sheepishly, many felt, re-committed to Connacht on a two-year deal. Some of the western contingent, having been told that their coach was departing to greener pastures, were slightly taken aback when Bradley reappeared in their lives after a startling double rebuff.

Three years later, as Bradley continued to soldier on with Connacht, Munster came into focus again when Kidney left to become Ireland coach.

Yet, despite an impressive stint in caretaker charge of the Irish team in the Antipodes, when his expansive coaching impressed players and supporters alike, his luck was out.

Munster defended their right to appoint Tony McGahan from within and the IRFU barely demurred, despite rumours they would once again seek to impose their candidate.

In any event, a cursory straw pool of the Munster dressing-room clearly preferred McGahan.

Once more, Bradley's ambitions were undermined and, as his Connacht side finished adrift at the bottom of the league, it felt as if his coaching career was also bottoming out.

Soon to outgrow Connacht, he was not deemed big enough for Munster.

When he eventually left this country, he indulged in a necessarily nomadic existence, pitching up in Georgia at one stage to aid their World Cup preparations.

Ironically, when he did eventually land the Edinburgh post last year, he finally defeated a supposed better, as Eddie O'Sullivan's claims were rejected by the Scottish capital's top brass.

And, again arguably displaying unwitting irony, he found himself last season denying any interest in the Munster post when McGahan departed.

His two-year contract ends next season, though, and we are reminded of what he told us about his time in Edinburgh when he last visited Munster.

"You could be working anywhere because you go in early in the morning and you come out late at night," he said. "And at this time of the year, it's pretty dark." Especially when results aren't going your way.

Limerick has never rolled out the red carpet for this son of Cork in the past. This Sunday seems an unlikely starting point for someone seeking redemption.

Irish Independent

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