Saturday 21 September 2019

O'Kelly: White the visionary front-man to steer Leinster back on right course

Malcolm O’Kelly has been out of the Leinster environment long enough now to formtake an objective viewpoint of the current situation (Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE)
Malcolm O’Kelly has been out of the Leinster environment long enough now to formtake an objective viewpoint of the current situation (Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE)
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Malcolm O'Kelly has been out of the Leinster environment long enough now to take an objective viewpoint of the current situation.

On Wednesday, the province's captain Jamie Heaslip questioned the timing of the decision to relieve Matt O'Connor of his duty, but O'Kelly believes that the Leinster hierarchy were left with little alternative.

The former second-row played for several coaches across his 14-year career and he can see the signs when players are lacking leadership and motivation.

"I suppose in essence, it was a smart move on Leinster's account. It was probably the right time for a change given the fact that they've got the summer course to find someone else," O'Kelly said.

"You could debate whether it was fair on Matt O'Connor or not but look at where Leinster were two years ago and where they are now.

"The Leinster hierarchy would have been asking themselves, are they going to sit back and let that continue and is there an opportunity to bring someone else in?

"It can be easy for players to get into a comfort zone without even realising it. It was clear that the players weren't driving themselves.

"We weren't seeing any leaders and the younger players weren't stepping up as they have done in the past. The players weren't driving it as hard as they needed to be and that is due to a lack of leadership from above.

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"The (Ian) Madigan issue was a big one for me. Two years ago, he was (Johnny) Sexton's understudy and he was seen as the next in line, but he was never given the time to develop. He has gone backwards.

"The buck stops with the players but the coach is the one who will always get the chop and in that sense, a change was certainly needed."

O'Kelly is adamant that Leinster must appoint a coach with specific leadership qualities and he knows the importance of getting the new man in, sooner rather than later.

After Robbie Deans ruled himself out of the running to replace O'Connor, Jono Gibbes has emerged as the bookies' favourite to take over but O'Kelly has his eye on a World Cup-winning coach.

"I think they need a real front-man - someone who is visionary and can really lead the side. Experience and determination is crucial at this stage because the ship really needs to be steered," he said.

"I would look at someone like Jake White. He would be prepared to come in and let the likes of Leo (Cullen), Girvan (Dempsey) and (Isa) Nacewa, if he was given a coaching role, get on with the job.

"A decision needs to be made as quickly as possible because the ability to see your players without the pressure situation of matches is hugely beneficial rather than during a season when the pressure is on. Either way, it will take a full season until a new coach can tinker with the squad."

O'Kelly doesn't anticipate that there will be a big shake-up within the backroom staff.

Although his former second-row partner Cullen is looking after matters on an interim basis, he is hoping that Leinster don't heap any further pressure on the forwards coach, who is still developing his coaching style.

"Leo will certainly be part of the new coaching ticket but I think there is probably too much expected of him too soon," O'Kelly said.

"I have no doubt that he will stand up to the job but they're putting a lot of pressure on his shoulders.

"I really hope they give him more time to develop. There is already a lot of pressure being put on his shoulders."

O'Kelly supports Plan Ireland, a children's charity who are currently raising funds in aid of the Nepal earthquake. Donate now by calling 1800 829829 or by visiting

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