Saturday 21 September 2019

Comment: Lukewarm job description for new head coach undermines the legacy of Women’s World Cup

While Tom Tierney was a full-time employee, on a contract lasting three years, the new man or woman will only be offered a six-month deal and on a part-time basis. Photo: Sportsfile
While Tom Tierney was a full-time employee, on a contract lasting three years, the new man or woman will only be offered a six-month deal and on a part-time basis. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

When Ireland lost their third successive World Cup match to Wales in August, culminating in an eighth-place finish in a home tournament from which many had reasonably expected a last-four place, the immediate response to failure was swift and summary.

Within two hours, Tom Tierney had stepped down from his responsibilities as head coach - albeit nobody is still entirely sure if he ever possessed all the responsibilities of a head coach in the first place.

Would that his employers demonstrated a similar decisiveness in their response to their own curation of failure.

Instead, it has taken almost two months for Ireland to initiate the process of replacing him; it makes the transition in Munster seem virtually seamless in comparison.

The IRFU's announcement yesterday that they were advertising for the position of a head coach would lead one to believe that, after the World Cup flop, there is finally an acknowledgement that the XV-a-side sport needs to be accelerated. Unfortunately, the job description illustrates that the only direction they seem willing to take is a backward one.

While Tierney was a full-time employee, on a contract lasting three years, the new man or woman will only be offered a six-month deal and on a part-time basis.

Ruth O'Reilly. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruth O'Reilly. Photo: Sportsfile

It is extremely difficult to understand just why an experienced, top-class coach would be willing to submit to a career move that offers neither certainty nor longevity.

Some legacy.

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This can only smack of half-hearted commitment which, set alongside the lamentable fact that the international side have no planned internationals for November, unlike so many of their ambitious rivals, will disappoint the passionate community involved in women's sport.

More, as a wider reflection of women's sport in this country, which has been riding the crest of a wave thanks to some remarkable events of late, notably the All-Ireland camogie and football finals, it seems to be a severely retrograde step.

The IRFU are keen to outline that this may only be, to quote a political slogan from the past in another context, 'a temporary little arrangement'.

They said: "The decision to return the coaching role to a part-time basis follows feedback from coaches the IRFU has spoken with, and a further decision on the nature of this role will be competed post the 2018 Six Nations."

Interestingly, there doesn't appear to be any stress placed on communication with the players themselves.

In the words of one proud Grand Slam winner yesterday, the whole process was summed up by somebody who also has an experience of reaching the last four of a World Cup.

"Sure it's all about 7's now anyway!?" she tweeted. "No panic on a coach sure 6n isn't until Feb. Prob be best prepared 6n too. #takingthep**s".

It's not just former players who are angry. "A kick in the teeth for players," said Jenny Murphy. "So much progress made by other nations and we take five steps backwards."

For all that the IRFU and the coaching staff have taken the hit for Ireland's World Cup failure, the players should not escape criticism too.

However, that should serve to strengthen the argument for a full-time, longer-term appointment to ensure that the players are more than adequately prepared for their next tournament.

Underlying the state of uncertainty surrounding the situation regarding the XVs game is the growing realisation that the IRFU may be leaning towards the potentially greater riches and kudos that might be garnered from the Sevens game, and Olympics exposure, while down-grading the XVs format.

Yesterday's lukewarm invitation for a new coach would seem to harden that perception.

It all seemed so different a few months ago as Ireland prepared to host the World Cup which, even if its team failed to fire, was deemed an outstanding success.

Ireland are trying to secure the Men's World Cup for this country in 2023 - and has even added Grand Slam-winner Niamh Briggs to help its case - but how can they square such a commitment with such a damning indictment of how they now view the long-form element of the women's game here?

It smacks of tokenism, at best, and ignorance, at worst.

Ruth O'Reilly - the retired lock whose stinging revelations about Ireland's shoddy preparations exploded the debate about the direction of the game at the highest level in this country - was equally damning when she responded to the news yesterday.

"I really wish the IRFU wouldn't prove me right yet again," she said. "There is nothing 'part-time' or 'casual' when wearing a green jersey."

It seems that, for now, the IRFU do not agree with her, and they deem it not worth the investment and their next move in the spring will be keenly anticipated.

For now, players with full-time jobs must naturally find it annoying that their extraordinary commitment has not been matched by that of the IRFU.

It is the harshest of realities for the 15-a-side game in this country.

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