McFadden can make World Cup: Gaffney
Opportunity knocks against the Barbarians in Thomond Park for several Irish players to make a significant inroad into the collective thinking of the coaching brains trust for not merely this summer's tour, but potentially next year's World Cup tilt in New Zealand.
If this season's traumatic category of injuries has demonstrated anything to Messrs Kidney and Co, it is that the potential for easing through fringe players may have to become even more accelerated in the weeks and months ahead.
With Denis Leamy, Stephen Ferris, Rory Best, Paul O'Connell, Luke Fitzgerald and, latterly, Keith Earls among those pitched up in casualty bay, this next month could prove a defining time for emerging talents such as John Muldoon, Dan Tuohy, Fergus McFadden, Chris Henry and Ed O'Donoghue.
Kidney has always affirmed that developing a squad remains his biggest challenge ahead of next year's defining World Cup; the team's fitful displays this season reflect the inherent difficulty in effecting successful surgery where required.
To that end, assistant coaches Alan Gaffney and Gert Smal were typically defiant yesterday in acknowledging that the challenges presented by the squad's injury profile must be utilised in a positive manner.
It's not a matter of what might have been, but what might be as Ireland look to complete a first ever test victory in New Zealand next week and, as manager Paul McNaughton keeps reminding Gaffney, a first test success against Australia in some 32 years.
Time is running too for some of Ireland's leading lights to complete their remarkable cvs; now, a new wave of youth and enthusiasm will be required to add more ballast than was previously bargained for.
"Obviously it's the last chance for a number of the guys, a number of them won't travel again for a tour like this," admitted Gaffney in Limerick yesterday. "And you look at the horrendous injuries in the back five of the forwards. But we still have a professional squad we know can compete.
"I accept it's been a fantastic decade and more for this country, but there's a lot of talent coming through. I think there'll be a lot of boys who'll be coming through before the next World Cup, who haven't been mapped at this current time."
Already firmly on the radar, and benefiting from the Irish management's intimate association with last summer's Churchill Cup success, while the Lions grabbed the majority of the summer rugby headlines, are the likes of McFadden and Muldoon.
"This is very important for him (McFadden)," acknowledged Gaffney. "Last summer was a major step, he was the player of the tournament (Churchill Cup) and that was a bounce for him. He hasn't had much of an opportunity this year which has been a disappointment for him obviously and for us as well."
McFadden showed enough in rare glimpses to demonstrate he has the temperament and ability to cut it at this level, notably away to Cardiff with a weakened Leinster side when he shone against tonight's midfield opponent Casey Laulala, and on this ground against Munster when his defensive solidity was notable.
"We're really going to see him develop over the next while. He has shown maturity himself and I think you'll see him push on even more next season. I'd advise him to stay at Leinster. You learn an enormous amount from those excellent players around him.
"He will get a lot of time next year, on present indications he has a great chance of making a World Cup. Who knows what can happen after that. The boys in his position are top drawer, but Fergus is nipping at their heels."
Muldoon is almost certain to start next weekend with the curious case of Alan Quinlan seeing the Tipp man lining out for the nominal home team this evening.
"It's the next progression for these guys that they can show they can play at this level and for a lot of the other players who haven't played at this level before, we're hoping they surprise us," said Smal. "It's a great opportunity for John. He's dogged, very aggressive, very physical and mentally tough. You need those type of players to give the pack a good solid feel. He's a good lineout option. It's a great opportunity for him to show he can do it at this level."
Although the training session over-ran for some 10 minutes, Gaffney admitted that the Irish wouldn't be over-complicating things this evening, a function of the limited time the squad have spent together on the pitch this week. Gaffney joked that he would have preferred had the Barbarians been successful in their breathless chase to eliminate last Sunday's significant half-time deficit clocked up against the English. "They might have had a few more beers if they'd won," he smiled.
Returning confidence to the squad following the dismal Six Nations denouement and the tired ending to the season for the provinces is arguably more urgent.
"The mood is quite positive," asserted Smal. "A fair amount of time has lapsed from the last game. The guys want to make a difference and play good rugby. I think the confidence is at a very good level.
"Certain individuals give you that feel a little more, through their personalities. I don't want to single them out, but there are a couple who can particularly keep it together. We know the more you win the better you can be."
Smal was vociferous in demanding that his forwards "take ownership of their tasks" and learn to perform without the talismanic O'Connell. Eradicating the fear factor -- especially among the newer recruits -- is vital.
"I always say that in Ireland, we need a little fear," he said, who earlier dismissed suggestion that this evening's selection may not carry much weight ahead of the All Blacks test. "We have confidence, but there's enough fear to also bring a performance out."
Nights like these are designed for entertainment, as Kidney will surely stress. But this will also be a night where Irish supporters can begin to seriously ascertain the strength in depth of the national team.
Ireland -- R Kearney; S Horgan, G Duffy, F McFadden, A Trimble; R O'Gara (capt), P Stringer; M Horan, S Cronin, T Buckley, E O'Donoghue, D Tuohy, J Muldoon, N Ronan, C Henry. Replacements: J Flannery, T Court, M O'Driscoll, D Wallace, T O'Leary, J Sexton, P Wallace..
Barbarians -- P Warwick; D Smith, C Lualala, S Rabeni, C Heymans; B James, P Mignoni; D Barnes, S Brits, C Johnston, J Thion, M O'Kelly, A Quinlan, G Smith, X Rush. Replacements: B August, J White, R So'oialo, M Williams, B Kelleher, J-B Elissalde, F Estebanez.
Ref -- R Poite (France)
Ireland v Barbarians,
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