Sport Rugby

Thursday 14 December 2017

Irish game will rue shameful shunning as outcast Eddie moves on

Eddie O'Sullivan
Eddie O'Sullivan
David Kelly

David Kelly

In deciding to opt for the obvious lure of a head coaching role, after years of rejection in a homeland that seemed steadfast in drawing the curtains whenever he approached their door, Eddie O'Sullivan has moved on.

Perhaps now Irish rugby, guilty of dragging its heels when it comes to promulgating any indigenous coaches, let alone one of its most innovative and seminal visionaries, can move on too.

If O'Sullivan didn't appreciate the extent of his persona non grata status amongst the chattering voices of Irish rugby – those who were at one time so obsequious in his presence during the good times – two rebuffs from Munster and Connacht in recent times offered a thunderous response.

It is to Anthony Foley's immense credit then, and perhaps some within more sanctified halls who indulged the vision, that he belatedly convinced people that O'Sullivan was, finally, worthy of re-integration into a world that had shunned him like an outcast for so many years.

Foley manfully bridged the gap between the professional and personal – this game is about results and the incoming Munster coach spotted in O'Sullivan a technical nous and ability that could better achieve that aim.

Foley is not in the business of selecting folk who will dolefully assent to his every wish and tell a good gag to break the ice when the mood turns sour.

He wanted someone to challenge coaches and players; O'Sullivan would have been perfect, for this was his greatest strength even if, ultimately, it may have turned out to be his greatest weakness.

There will be those who will still cant self-righteously that, in purportedly snubbing Munster's recent offer, O'Sullivan's decision to opt for the south of France represents a typically characteristic exercise in self-indulgence.

It is anything but. Despite the heightened expectations and residual suspicion amongst his erstwhile enemies, Munster would have been a much, much easier gig.

In any event, there was no job on offer – hence there was none to reject, despite reports to the contrary.

In Biarritz, O'Sullivan will pitch up at a once-proud, totem of Basque pride, whose geographical buffeting by Atlantic storms is nothing compared to the assault on their financial and spiritual being following supine relegation.

He will immerse himself in a club who have suffered years of mis-management – worryingly overseen by the man, former France great Serge Blanco, directly responsible for his appointment.

With the top-flight clubs enriched more supremely than ever by TV money, he will face a dearth of top-class players, a struggling academy and a typically indolent French attitude to the structural and organisational efficiency that has always driven him as a coach.

It is a challenge he will relish; the irony is that it arrives just when the extended thaw in his relationship with Irish rugby had begun.

When his much-criticised – justifiably – four-year extension was announced before the ill-fated 2007 World Cup, IRFU CEO Phillip Browne declared there were a cadre of Irish coaches emerging who could fill the top posts.

How we chuckled; Ireland's brightest coaching talents are reaching greater heights overseas than they could ever hope to achieve at home.

This season, Irish rugby's top five posts were filled by foreigners and O'Sullivan was joined by Declan Kidney on the coaching scrapheap. Whatever your view on these men as people, it is their excellence as rugby men that counts.

They deserved – and deserve – better than being frozen out by those to whom they gave so much great service, many of whom remain in their cushy posts.

Irish rugby can ill-afford to have such decorated servants on the outside looking in. Then again, maybe the view is better there.

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