Sport Rugby

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Dempsey on express way to the very top

Leinster 'A' boss looking real coaching deal as he gives hot prospects licence to thrill

Leinster A's Dominic Ryan and team-mate Brendan Macken, left, celebrate after the British & Irish Cup victory over Leeds Carnegie
Leinster A's Dominic Ryan and team-mate Brendan Macken, left, celebrate after the British & Irish Cup victory over Leeds Carnegie
Girvan Dempsey has proved himself to be an impressive coach
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

The big one was in Cardiff on Saturday, but the Heineken Cup shootout between Saracens and Toulon had little to offer the committed Irish fan.

Not to worry, there was always Donnybrook and the B&I Cup final where Girvan Dempsey's Leinster 'A' beat Leeds Carnegie 44-17 on Friday to retain the title.

On show to the Dublin public for the second time in a number of weeks was the best of emerging young talent in our most consistent and most successful province.

Alas, we had a poor turnout, due to the damp, chilly weather.

Forgive the cynic in me, but I doubt that too many of those who will pack the Ballsbridge venue in five days' time for the Pro12 final against Glasgow were ensconced in front of their TVs watching for Brian or Leo's successor, or indeed for any other potential talent.

And more's the pity, because they missed another masterclass in well-organised, well-structured team rugby.


But more than anything, they missed a winning quality laced with clear encouragement for every individual to do his thing for the collective good, but primarily to play for space and take opposition alignment on its merits and not on the basis of any pre-determined plan.

Yes of course Dempsey and John Fogarty will have come up with a collective strategy to which the chosen 23 will have been briefed, but the obvious message for anyone watching (from near or far) was of a new generation immersed in the Leinster way.

Indeed, I would go further and say that at this point in time, the Leinster shadow squad is playing a more effective and eye-catching brand of rugby than the shop window side itself.

Dempsey the player was a gem of a tactician in terms of on-field appreciation. His positional sense, specifically the ability to read the opposition playmakers in midfield, was the best we have witnessed from the wearer of the green No 15 shirt.

He shipped criticism for other areas of his game from time to time but his general demeanour always suggested that he took it in his stride, took on board what he deemed constructive or appropriate and moved onto the next challenge.

It is that fundamental humility and natural decency which sees him equipped with the coaching skill-set to go some way in his chosen trade now.

He understands not only the game, but also the qualities and desires of the young men for whose responsibility and professional development he is now charged.

I remember interviewing the then emerging Terenure College full-back in Booterstown when the game first went professional and St Andrew's College was the Leinster training base.

He oozed starry-eyed enthusiasm in terms of the opportunity to live the dream but equally, he struck me as the most level-headed young man even at that embryonic stage in his playing development.

In just short of 200 appearances for Leinster and over 80 for Ireland he never, ever changed.

He is my type of coach in so far as he encourages the players to back instinct and the traits that got them to this stage, to the fringe of their dream, in the first place.

He is channelling his vast well of knowledge and experience in the right way – the Leinster way.

His take on his role and his success to date is exactly as I would have expected, claiming: "We like to encourage the players to try things knowing they'll figure out the answers in the process."

That for sure is Dempsey-speak and, more importantly, Dempsey coaching technique.

But what identifies for me in the reserve squad's main man a serious coach in the making is what he says next: "We try to develop certain core skills through the academy and 'A' team, but equally recognise the differences in coaching philosophies between Matt (O'Connor) and Joe (Schmidt).

"We try and make sure that the players are aware of them and play to them. If they then get called up into the senior team, they are able to adapt and slip seamlessly into the system."


But it is here the humility kicks in, as he adds: "The style we play is similar to the senior team but is not exactly the same because the pressures are not the same.

"For me, if they do the same thing all the time and don't make mistakes they are never going to learn. We like to encourage the players to try things. They'll figure out the answers in the process of doing it."

On Friday, against Leeds, as they attempted their second successive B&I win, the pressure was similar.

But for anyone privileged to be there, you would never have known.

This was Munster (in the quarter-final) revisited. They took up where they left off with a scintillating brand of searching rugby to which the Yorkshire visitors had no answers.

Highlighting individuals in such a comprehensive squad performance is a little unfair, but at a time when the senior squad is in minor transition, James Tracy, Ben Marshall, Jack Conan, Ross Molony and the Byrne brothers (Bryan and Ed) are looking the real deal.

But is the pyrotechnics behind the scrum that really caught the eye, specifically Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh (the half-backs ran the game), Noel Reid and Brendan Macken in midfield plus Sam Coghlan Murray and Darragh Fanning on the wings.

These hot prospects are all waiting impatiently in the wings.

Indeed of the entire backline, only Darren Hudson (Bristol-bound with Jack O'Connell) will not exert pressure on the senior side next season.

At a time when Munster have made the move to indigenous, the over-riding message from Donnybrook is unambiguous: 'Girv the Swerve' is the real coaching deal.


Take Wilkinson out and Toulon look ordinary

Of course I am biased, but the Heineken, soon to be Champions Cup, is just not the same minus an Irish presence.

The final was the slugfest we all expected it to be, albeit with the bigger and more expensive sluggers taking the trophy much more convincingly than any of us anticipated.

So three quick post-scripts:

1) Saracens remain the most difficult team in the competition to love, so sympathy at their Millennium Stadium demise is in mighty short supply.

2) The difference on Saturday – while acknowledging the impact of Steffon 'the vulture' Armitage (a most deserving Man of the Match) at the breakdown – was Jonny Wilkinson. The soon-to-retire out-half still determines the result of almost every match he plays in. Take Wilkinson out and Toulon look pretty ordinary in terms of trophy-winning ability. The inaugural Champions Cup will be interesting.

3) Like him or loathe him, Mourad 'Moneybags' Boudjellal's post-match criticism, while full of irony, directed at the English Rugby Union for deliberately ignoring non-English-based players, is 100pc on the money.


Leinster bring their 'A' game in solidarity

The disappointing attendance at Friday's British & Irish Cup final was boosted by the presence of almost the entire Leinster senior squad and management to support the 'A' side. That is as it should be and another example as to why Leinster is now so much more than a mere brand for expansive rugby.

Irish Independent

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