| 13.1°C Dublin

Glass ceiling for coaches forces Prendergast abroad

MIKE PRENDERGAST cannot wait to get started on his new assignment with Grenoble next season, but his departure highlights a major issue in Irish rugby – the lack of opportunities for homegrown coaches to break through to the professional game here.

Ambition dictates that those in charge of All-Ireland League clubs must move for opportunities, and Young Munster supremo Prendergast has taken that chance by agreeing to hook up with his former Clontarf rival Bernard Jackman at the Top 14 club.

He will become skills coach, with the former Leinster hooker continuing as defence guru.

His decision to leave these shores shadows his playing career, when he had stints with Bourgoin and Gloucester, and it comes against a background of an increasingly Antipodean coaching landscape in Ireland.

Pat Lam's arrival in Galway last week means all four provinces now have New Zealand-reared coaches in charge.

One of those, Joe Schmidt, is battling Australians Les Kiss and Ewen McKenzie and Englishman (albeit one who played rugby league for Ireland) Shaun Edwards to succeed Declan Kidney, so it looks likely that all five head coaching jobs in Ireland will be filled by foreigners.

The likes of Conor O'Shea, Mark McCall and Simon Easterby have got coaching gigs elsewhere, with all three coming up against Irish opposition in this year's Heineken Cup.

It was notable that, when Ronan O'Gara pondered life after rugby last week, Ireland's most-capped player acknowledged that he would have to go abroad before he would ever be considered for the top job at Munster.

Prendergast believes the IRFU are doing good work with young coaches through national coach development manager Steve Aboud, but the trend for the provinces has been to look overseas when vacancies arise.

The situation is, he admits, frustrating as he believes that the standard of coaches is high in the AIL – with the likes of Andy Dunne, Peter Smyth and Reggie Corrigan doing fine work in the local game.

"It is a bit disheartening, when you are a young coach, to see all the provinces coached by people from abroad, there is no point in saying it's not," the 35-year-old said. "Over the past 10 years, since we have been fully professional here, players have gone on to be coaches and have learned an awful lot from the New Zealanders and Australians.

"But, as coaches now, we have built up that rugby knowledge and coaches will put their own slant on how the game should be played.

"The step up is hard. Trying to get on to the professional ladder is the hardest thing.

"The AIL is a great league to start in, but waiting for that opportunity in Ireland where there are a handful of jobs, it is very hard to get into those spots.

"I genuinely believe that there are good enough Irish coaches to step in and do the job, but we just need a province to do it. The Welsh regions are coached by young, homegrown coaches."

Prendergast and others who head abroad will be hoping the experience they gain will stand to them when opportunities arise at home in future. He now has a chance to make a name for himself in France after signing a one-year deal with Grenoble, and can't wait to get started.

"It is an opportunity that has come up and one I'm looking forward to," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge.

"To have one Irish coach over in a club in France is one thing, to have two is great. Having Bernard there will be a big help."

Irish Independent