Thursday 23 November 2017

Fallow years can bear fruit in the long run if you have the right man at the tiller

'You have transition and you need to keep your nerve and faith and not listen to white noise or sensationalism' Stock photo: Sportsfile
'You have transition and you need to keep your nerve and faith and not listen to white noise or sensationalism' Stock photo: Sportsfile

Conor O'Shea

When you hear some of the talk about the current national team you would think we had reached an Armageddon of some sorts in Irish rugby, that all is truly lost, and that Joe Schmidt only inherited a team at Leinster and Ireland and we are facing a period in the doldrums. To me nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, this season at national and provincial level - despite the fact that a province will probably win the Pro 12 title - has been disappointing.

But in a wider sense, I see differently. I see a team that has lost key players over the last few years and has suffered injuries to crucial players like Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Iain Henderson. But sport like life is not a continuously upward curve, you have transition and you need to keep your nerve and faith and not listen to white noise or sensationalism. People point to Alex Ferguson as the master of showing that success is forever but even with money and resources you need luck. We all know Ferguson would have lost his job if Mark Robins's late goal had not saved his career in a third-round FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. They are the lines you walk. All that success, but back in 1990 if people hadn't backed their judgement Ferguson wouldn't have been there.

The years of success at United didn't prepare them for the fallout of the post-Ferguson era. Press and public want immediate and continued success and even though Louis van Gaal now has them fifth in the league as he rebuilds, it is not enough. The trouble with success is once you have had it, only winning counts. It is what you want to live with but with it comes a level of scrutiny in the world we live in that is at times overbearing. How quick were people to say that Chelsea were in a relegation dogfight? Where are those people now? Regardless of how Leicester City finish this season, when they do return to their norm, which they will, look how quickly people will turn on Claudio Ranieri. The Tinkerman from Chelsea is now a saint at Leicester but for how long?

What we all expect from Ireland is clouding the reality of where we are. In my opinion we aren't too far off where we need to be. Yes, of course there are massive challenges. How do we ensure we have the depth we need in every positions? Well if we have enough injuries, we'll never have enough depth, our playing pool just isn't big enough. Like Ferguson, you need your slice of luck, that is why we are all drawn to sport, and Ireland have not had it this season.

What I have seen over the opening weeks of the Six Nations are a number of players continuing to grow and the performances of Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Robbie Henshaw have at times been of real quality. We have seen the emergence of Ultan Dillane (what a cameo against England), Stuart McCloskey, Josh van der Flier, and CJ Stander to name a few. These guys have not walked into a winning environment and they are not coming from provinces brim-full of confidence but in some ways that will be grounding. I don't think it did the likes of O'Connell, O'Driscoll and O'Gara any harm to be at the tail end of tough times for Irish rugby as it kept them driven, never taking anything for granted. I am sure this year will do the same for a lot of Irish players.

The rugby landscape is changing every year and there are new challenges, whether that is the lure of overseas contracts for Irish players or superpower nations getting their act together. Don't forget France have not been at their best for years but that won't last for long. The message is to enjoy success when you have it, understand it isn't forever so you have to keep planning and plotting for the future and also understand that a year like this is just as important to Ireland as the winning ones because we have a coach in place who understands and learns and analyses more than most, and we are lucky to have him.

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