Saturday 25 January 2020

Conor O'Shea: I was never in for Munster job

New Italy boss refuses to rule out future return home, writes Ruaidhri O'Connor

Conor O'Shea. Photo: PA
Conor O'Shea. Photo: PA

Ruaidhri O’Connor

The invite promised the new Italy coach, but the man who turned up in Dublin yesterday is still the Harlequins supremo and, try as you might, there is no shifting him off message.

And boy, did we try. Conor O'Shea knows nobody believes him when he says he hasn't thought about taking over the Azzurri in June, but he is sticking to his mantra no matter what.

That's not to say the former Ireland full-back has nothing to say, it's just that he has nothing to say about Italy.

"I'm not even looking at that at the moment," he said. "I'm really excited both professionally and personally to be making the move. It would be ignorant of me to pass any comment before I met and talked to loads of people down there.

"My job is to finish the season well with Quins. I've had six unbelievable years there. I love doing things out of my comfort zone. But then, I like being comfortable in what I do sometimes. I'm looking forward to that when it comes."


Over the course of an entertaining hour in Dublin city centre yesterday, there were a range of topics that O'Shea would engage with in his role as an Irish Life MAPS ambassador.

As we waited for him to be confirmed as Italy's new man, the rumour mill refused to give up on the idea that he might have a change of heart and take over as director of rugby at Munster, where he retains close ties with chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald.

"No. I've never spoken to them about it," he said. "I go back with Garrett to the Irish students tour to Italy in 1990 or 1991. I go back a long way with Anthony (Foley) as well."

He was an attractive option for the province given his experience in building up Harlequins as director of rugby over the last six years.

When he took over, the London club were reeling from the infamous 'Bloodgate' affair, but he guided them to the Premiership, Anglo-Welsh and Challenge Cup trophies and still hopes to add to that collection before departing.

The structure is a new one for Munster, but O'Shea is wary of getting too hung up on titles.

"It's what you do within that job. You can call it head coach, assistant, director of rugby, call it what you like, it's what you do," he said. "Then, like any team, this is my opinion, you look at the skill-sets those different people bring.

"Are they more hands-on? Are they someone who likes to be in the background? Are they a facilitator? Are they able to work down through a system?

"Then, the team that works around that complements that. If you try and replace like-for-like, you'll never get that because no one is the same. Everyone has a different skill-set.

"You have to have an idea of what you want that person to do.

"It was a long time ago when (Quins chief) Mark Evans approached me. They knew what they wanted within the role. They made it very clear what that would be.

"Is that the same for every club and every organisation? No. Ultimately, though, whoever hires fires, selects, sacks, they are the boss and everyone has to know that.

"There can't be a middle ground. You have to know who is in charge. As long as everyone knows who is in charge, they know what the hierarchy is. That's the most important thing. Then, it's the skill-set."

Since retiring as a player, O'Shea has worked across the Irish Sea and returned home only to work as a pundit on RTÉ.

He has never publicly expressed a desire to work in his homeland and remains coy on the idea.

"Life will take its path, sometimes you plan, things happen, sometimes you don't," he said.

"I love coming back here and knowing I've a lot of friends and am not in any way embittered, because sport can go one of two ways. I love my country and, sometimes, if you have a bad time which in sport generally. . . there are very few times when you can leave on your own terms, so. . .

"I've loads of good friends in the IRFU, all the way up to Philip (Browne), who I am meeting (today) for a cup of coffee when I come back for the UCD club dinner. I'll meet him for a catch-up."

So, O'Shea is happy to keep his ties with Irish rugby strong without any firm commitments.

He has a big job to do before he can even contemplate a move home. Italian rugby looks a long way away from the top, but appointing O'Shea looks like a hugely positive step.

Just don't expect him to talk about it just yet.

Irish Independent

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