Monday 23 April 2018

Tony Ward: IRFU crazy to sideline Kidney and O'Sullivan when our young coaches are struggling

Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney as part of the Irish set-up in 2004
Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney as part of the Irish set-up in 2004
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Our exit from the World Cup brought us back to earth with a bang. There were mitigating circumstances, chiefly injuries to key players, but the bottom line was a World Cup of underachievement.

That is how England 2015 will be remembered here.

Fortunately for the modern-day player, there is no time to linger, as games come thick and fast. In times past that has proved a godsend with players immersing themselves in the more comfortable surroundings of province/club.

Following the last two World Cups there was little problem re-adapting; now for some reason the line 'World Cup hangover' is being peddled again and again as some sort of justification for a fairly insipid start by the provinces in the Champions Cup.

Disappointing though Ireland's campaign turned out, it can't compare to the host nation's World Cup from Hell. Yet England's players have gone back to their clubs and hit the ground running.

Surely their World Cup hangover should be even worse?

Let's be fair here: it does take players time to re-adapt to systems, structures and management direction significantly different to what they have been dealing with in the Ireland set-up.

Our World Cup ended on October 18, yet the best part of two months on the 'World Cup hangover' line is being rehashed ad nauseam.

If established players are not delivering, then there is one guaranteed way of lifting that post-World Cup gloom: there is nothing a spell on the sidelines won't cure.


The challenge for coaches is in hitting that middle ground between individual TLC and team needs.

Not so long ago the IRFU was being pilloried for not giving indigenous coaches a chance at provincial level.

Now with Leinster and Ulster effectively on the way out and Munster nowhere near the European force they once were (although watch Thomond rock this day week when Leicester come to town), the talk is of rookies out of their depth.

There is no denying that the coaching teams at our three Champions Cup provinces are finding it tough.

Les Kiss has the wherewithal to steady the Ulster ship if he is given time, but for Anthony Foley and Leo Cullen, it's very much a case of learning as they go.

The least they deserve is a modicum of patience from the fans. I would hate to see the head coaching position at our two most successful provinces become something of a poisoned chalice.

I support the Union in its desire to develop home-grown coaches but equally I cannot understand why the two men who took us to new levels of success on the international stage before Joe Schmidt arrived have no part to play in this transition.

Both Eddie O'Sullivan and Declan Kidney are relatively young men with much still to offer.

O'Sullivan took Ireland to three Triple Crowns in four years (bear in mind it took us the best part of four decades to put our previous three together), while Kidney bridged the gap between 1948 and 2009 when securing a Grand Slam in his first year in charge.

Kidney is now director of sport at UCC while O'Sullivan is awaiting his next coaching opportunity following a bizarre sojourn at Biarritz.

I am not suggesting that either man should be handed the reins of one of the provinces, but it's crazy that when we have young coaching teams at Leinster and Munster feeling their way, Kidney and O'Sullivan - men with the type of experience we crave - are not involved. Only in Ireland.

Surely a consultancy role could be found for one or both in this difficult time of transition for everyone concerned.

O'Sullivan has made his availability known to Leinster, and I have little doubt that Kidney would take little persuading to help out Munster in whatever way he could.

And then there's Michael Bradley - another great servant of Irish rugby both on the field and off and one still contributing to the game he loves in his role as defence and backs coach to Georgia. Again, only in Ireland.

We are all enjoying Connacht's emergence as a substantial force, and Pat Lam deserves all the credit he is getting, but the seeds for the western revolution were sown over many moons - I'm thinking of the input of Bradley, Eric Elwood and Gerry Kelly (as CEO) in their time at the Sportsground. Credit Connacht for having the gumption to hold on to Elwood's expertise when appointing him domestic rugby manager for the province upon his retirement as head coach in 2013.

But Bradley, whose coaching experience includes Ireland U-21, Ireland 'A', Scotland 'A' and Edinburgh - as well as a spell as Ireland interim coach before Kidney took over - has had to travel much further afield to maintain employment.

Begrudgery has long been our national disease and for sure rugby is no exception.

Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with a system that denies itself the opportunity to tap into such proven expertise at a time when we are rightly trying to encourage and develop new, indigenous coaching talent?

I want former players like Foley, Cullen, Brian Walsh, Ian Costello, Mick O'Driscoll, Girvan Dempsey, John Fogarty, Neil Doak, Allen Clarke and Conor McPhillips to be given the opportunity to maximise that coaching potential.

A stellar playing career is no guarantee of coaching success, but it is certainly no impediment.

But what is guaranteed to help along that path is having a Kidney, a Bradley or an O'Sullivan even in a consultancy capacity.

Former Ireland prop Marcus Horan, making his way as head coach at Shannon, recently said: "I have learned that coaching is a very tough job. I appreciate Declan Kidney a lot more and what he had to go through. Anthony (Foley) said the same to me, that you can understand what Deccie went through all those years."

You cannot put a value on that experience. There is no magic wand to making the transition from player to coach.

We have the means; what we lack is the inclination to use it. Over to you IRFU.

Irish Independent

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