Monday 22 January 2018

Leo Cullen: This was too good an opportunity to miss

Leo Cullen has been appointed as Leinster head coach on a two-year contract
Leo Cullen has been appointed as Leinster head coach on a two-year contract

Ruaidhri O’Connor

LEINSTER'S new coach Leo Cullen concedes that he didn’t plan on taking over as head coach so soon after retiring but says he couldn’t turn down the chance to lead his beloved Blues.

The three-time Heineken Cup winning captain described the job as a “challenge”, but said he is up to the task of taking over from Matt O’Connor.

Cullen said he has received the full support of Joe Schmidt, saying it is important to keep a “constant dialogue” with the Ireland coach as so many of his charges are away with the national team preparing for the World Cup.

No one doubts the former second-row’s credentials, but his experience appears to be lacking after just one season with a whistle in his hands.

“I was very fortunate that, when I finished playing, Matt O’Connor offered me a position on his coaching team,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure what I’d do, thought I might do a Brad Thorn but I had that opportunity to learn a lot in my coaching year, but, listen, it is soon in my coaching career but it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“It’s a great challenge. As a player over a long period of time, I’ve always looked at head coaches and how they run the organisation and how they run the week.

Read more: Sexton: 'Special' Cullen can give Leinster lift-off

“I’ve thought about it in great depth, I’ve gone abroad to look at a few environments and it’s important to learn from new environments. I’ve spent a while bringing myself that experience.”

Cullen gave his first press conference as coach at UCD today and said managing players who he once shared a dressing-room with won’t be a problem and is part of his responsibility.

“I had a bit of that last year, definitely. It is strange, from being part of that playing group and being at training, but most of the players will see that the decisions I make are for the benefit of the team,” he said.

“There will be tough calls, when we have everyone on deck we’ve a strong team and there will be hard discussions.

“I’m very excited about challenge. Leinster a huge part of my life and to lead the programme into the season is a challenge.

“It’s a big responsibility with the job I’m going to take on, I’m just excited about it.

“We have been working away with the group, integrated the academy and guys are excited about playing. There’s a big opportunity, that process of managing those bodies.”

Although last season was a disappointing one, Cullen wants to get back to winning ways.

“In Europe, we were very close to achieving our goal. We took the eventual winners to extra-time and had chances,” he said.

“Our consistency in the league let us down the most and that’s where people feel the most disappointed about how the season unfolded.

"We can’t wait to pick results up and then you’re chasing things, hoping results go your way and you lose focus.

“It’s about putting ourselves in a position to win a trophy, we have two and it’s about putting yourself in the position to win it. We want semi-finals, but Europe is getting tougher and we have a tough pool.”

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