Tuesday 11 December 2018

John Fogarty: We all understood very quick what Joe Schmidt is about

Adam Byrne, pictured at Leinster training yesterday, says he owes a lot to Joe Schmidt. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Adam Byrne, pictured at Leinster training yesterday, says he owes a lot to Joe Schmidt. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

CIan Tracey

Adam Byrne's initial reaction was to assume that one of his mates was playing a prank on him.

After all, here he was, an 18-year-old. Surely Joe Schmidt wasn't about to hand him his professional debut and in the process make him the youngest player to have ever played for Leinster?

Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty in conversation with the current Ireland boss in 2013. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty in conversation with the current Ireland boss in 2013. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile

Yet Schmidt had already seen enough in the Kildare native to believe that he was ready to make the considerable step up.

That has been a hallmark of Schmidt's eight years in Ireland - he has never been afraid to blood young players, be that in handing the likes of Byrne his Leinster debut or inviting under-age players into camp to train with the senior team.

Byrne understands that more than most after Schmidt went on to cap the winger for the first time last year and a fortnight ago, had him in Carton House despite not being included in the initial 42-man squad for the November Series.

Expect

"They were two big, probably the biggest moments of my career," Byrne reflected. "I was training away in the sub-academy. I had played a few 'A' games and didn't really know what to expect. I had started rugby quite late, came up through the youths and wasn't aware of this whole schools rugby side of it.

"I got called to train a few times with the seniors. I thought 'Wow, this is cool'. Walking out with the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy. I couldn't believe it. I was ringing my Mam saying 'This is deadly'.

"I remember I was studying for my exams and got a call, I didn't have the number saved, and it was Joe saying 'Are you okay to be on the bench against Ulster?'

"I thought initially it was a prank call so that was pretty funny but once I got the call then, he just expected me to deliver and fit into the squad. He didn't treat me any differently to anyone else in the squad.

"With Ireland, I was trying to take in as much as I could when I was in camp and learn as much as I could.

"I thought perhaps the opportunity had passed me by with the Fiji game but he gave me the chance against Argentina. I owe a lot to him giving me my Leinster debut and my first Ireland cap as well."

Josh Murphy hopes to follow Byrne to the international stage but the Leinster flanker has already gotten a brief taste of what Schmidt is like from his time training against the senior squad with the Ireland U-20s.

"We were in the middle of the Six Nations, so we were all training together a lot, and you were expected to slot into the drills. I probably found it pretty intense when I was 20," Murphy explained.

Scrum coach John Fogarty caught the start of Schmidt's time in charge of Leinster before he was forced into premature retirement. However, the former hooker was around long enough to feel the wrath of the Kiwi.

"I wasn't involved in the first two games because of player management - in the Glasgow game away I got sin binned and got roasted by Joe," Fogarty smiled. "(It was) just a haze of noise, 'You will never play in this team again if you act selfishly like that', which was fair enough."

Schmidt went on to change the culture in Leinster before doing the same with the national team.

"We had under-performed at the end of the previous season, despite getting to the PRO12 final, but we were missing Johnny (Sexton) so there were a number of excuses we could have used and we did use those excuses," Fogarty added.

"Joe smashed through all that nonsense. He was very direct in how he spoke and everyone understood really, really quickly what he was about and you are not going to get away with that attitude around him.

"He doesn't leave the clubs he's left in poor shape. His stats are exceptional. His time will go down as one of the best, if not the best coach in Ireland, so far."

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