Sunday 18 March 2018

Dempsey feeling benefit of investment in coaching

Girvan Dempsey has been busy on his travels with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad on the tour. Photo: Sportsfile
Girvan Dempsey has been busy on his travels with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad on the tour. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Girvan Dempsey lands back in Dublin tomorrow, and then kicks off with Leinster again on Tuesday as they take a different approach to their pre-season: a little bit here, another little bit there. Coming off the back of a week here with Ireland in Japan, on top of the prep done with the squad in Carton House before they left home, it reflects where the coaching game is going as much as the playing side: when any useful window opens, you clamber through it.

He will be replaced in Japan by Felix Jones, having himself taken over after Ronan O'Gara did his stint on the US leg of the trip. In a game where everyone is falling over themselves trying to fast-track players, only now - in Ireland at any rate - have we opened the door to indigenous coaches being fed into the national set-up.

A week in this environment would make the equivalent in politics seem brief. Dempsey was here as a player in 2005. The circumstances were similar in that the Lions had creamed off the top layer for duty in New Zealand. Otherwise so much has changed it's like moving from Junior to Leaving Cert in a matter of months.

"As an outsider looking in you don't appreciate the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes from the backroom team as well," Dempsey says. "Logistically this has been a tough tour, going from the States to Japan. Also, all the medics trying to get people right, what with the jet lag, and the coaches from an analysis point of view, you only got a very short window; the US game, viewing that and analysing it, then getting ready for Japan. This week we have only had a walk through and one pitch session. So we're cramming a lot."

The move to open the door to extra travelling coaches came from IRFU performance director David Nucifora, with an eye to the medium and long term. But there are immediate benefits as well. In the States Ronan O'Gara was filling up his notebook on an hourly basis with stuff that, albeit used in an international context, will be applicable in Paris when he is back on the job with Racing. And Dempsey too has something to implement straight away in his day job.

"We, as coaches, looked at our season with Leinster and we saw that when we got to the business end of the season, we fell down in a few areas. We felt we lost the battle of the breakdown against Scarlets. That was a key point. I'm just picking up a lot from the coaches here, how they coach the breakdown and analyse it, it being one of their key priorities in the game. There's been some really good lessons from that.

"And the level of detail around how he (Schmidt) approaches player profiles, everyone is clearly aware and has clear footage and information on their work-ons and what's expected of them. Within that, it was said on this tour there was an opportunity for young players to play but there were no guarantees, but if you did get the jersey it was not just 'you've got the jersey', it was about what you did when you put it on your back - how you then perform.

"There is a certain level of expectation and when you get a Test cap you have to perform. So it's been eye-opening. Obviously I worked with Joe as a young coach, but my experiences since then, and being with him, Simon (Easterby), Greg (Feek), Richie (Murphy), it's been brilliant. There's been a lot of interaction, overlaps, sitting in on all the meetings."

Which is as it should be. Dempsey has been lucky enough to be shown an open book when, as part of his own coaching development at Leinster, he hopped down to New Zealand to spend some time first with the Chiefs and then the Blues. And he has been part of a Leinster set-up that welcomed coaches coming in the other direction - Crusaders coach Scott Robertson among them.

It's ironic then that the same degree of glasnost does not exist in his own back yard. It would make sense for each of Ireland's provinces to follow a template that sees them involve AIL coaches on a regular basis. That most of those coaches are working 9-5 in the real world is only a minor detail.

The value of learning all the time is not lost on Dempsey. And the arrival in Leinster last year of Stuart Lancaster accelerated that.

"I'm constantly looking to improve, and Stuart's been there and done it. He's coached at the highest level and he's been excellent. We've got to a situation now (in Leinster) where we're all dovetailing quite well, we're all working in unison, with clear understanding of our roles and responsibilities. There are good opportunities I suppose to discuss rugby and challenge each other. He's not afraid to ask, 'Why are you doing that?' And likewise he's very open to us saying, 'Can you explain why you would use that defensive system and why you would do something else?'

"I think this is something the IRFU are looking to grow. This is the first stepping stone of it and I think David Nucifora is conscious of the growth and investment needed in coaches."

Now that they've started up something that makes common sense, it would be equally good for business to extend it down the line.

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