Friday 17 January 2020

'More relaxed environment and less intense' - Kearney says players can express themselves more in new regime

Compared to the era which preceded it, there's a pronounced focus on expression - both on and off field - in Farrell's new Ireland set-up

‘Some people don’t like that really intense environment where every mistake is scrutinised,’ says Dave Kearney when comparing his early impression of the new Ireland regime to Joe Schmidt’s. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
‘Some people don’t like that really intense environment where every mistake is scrutinised,’ says Dave Kearney when comparing his early impression of the new Ireland regime to Joe Schmidt’s. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

There was a time, at least as Irish rugby's often over-bearing sense of legend might have it, that unveiling even the most innocent revelation of what went on in a Joe Schmidt Ireland gathering might have prompted summary exile.

The often laughable hysteria about how Schmidt minutely controlled every aspect of his reign served its purpose when Ireland ascended lavish sporting heights; but then seemed to undermine him when they slowly slipped from the summit.

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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Andy Farrell was an intimate witness to the rise and fall of that empire and, although 80-minute performances on a Saturday will be the ultimate arbiter, the Englishman clearly believes setting a mood is key.

That Dave Kearney, a participant at the recent squad gathering, could so blithely answer questions about Farrell's first summit is indicative not necessarily for anything he said but rather the fact he felt comfortable enough to say it in the first place.

For much of Schmidt's time, the recidivist stories about terrifying Monday morning video routines were an almost staged set-piece to mask any other sense of what it really felt like to be an Irish player.

Certainly, Schmidt was purportedly disdainful of any player or coach who let slip any details about what went on behind closed doors.

Kearney, however, was more than forthcoming. And, the last time we checked, the world was still spinning contentedly on its axis.

"I think so, yeah," he asserts when asked if the new regime seems to be less intense than the one that preceded it.

Personality

"Other guys react differently to those sorts of environments depending on a player's personality. Some people don't like that really intense environment where every mistake you make in training or in meetings or anything like that is scrutinised.

"Players react differently to that. Going forward (it'll be) a more relaxed environment, less intense. Every player is going be able to express themselves a bit more."

Kearney's testimony reveals that not much happened in the squad gathering - or 'stock-take' as some marketing wheeze decreed - but what was important was the atmosphere around the relative inactivity.

Letting the Irish public inside might be a shrewd PR ploy or a ham-fisted attempt to curry favour; results will decide that referendum.

"We didn't really do that much rugby-wise," Kearney adds. "We did a small bit, more our general shape and getting guys up to speed. There are a few things that the coaches want to change. It's making sure that everyone is on the same page.

"You have new faces coming in there, lads who have never really been around that environment or met some of the coaches. It's obviously important for them too.

"Some people were meeting each other for the first time. We went into Grafton Street, did a bit of work for the homeless, collected a bit of money, had a bit of craic. Everyone just enjoyed the company of others."

It's a lightness of touch which may have been missing before but a new style requires a new substance, too.

To that end, Kearney was also able to add a little more confirmative detail to Farrell's generic announcement in his first media outing about a nuanced expansion of a game-plan which, once successful, shuddered to a grinding halt in 2019.

"I'd say so, yeah," the winger assesses when pressed about a new style under incoming attack coach Mike Catt.

"It's probably similar to the way that we play here at Leinster, I guess. We play that expansive game, everyone likes to get their hands on the ball.

"We get the ball to the edges, wingers working off their wings, 15s playing in that first receiver role too, 12 and 13 working around the corner as well.

"I think for backs we will probably be able to express ourselves a bit more, get their hands on the ball a bit more. Mike Catt is really good, he seems like a really nice guy. I'd never met him before.

"He took the meeting in the morning which was good but otherwise it's hard to say because we didn't do a whole pile of work.

"But there was a bit of shape work in the afternoon. I'd say he'll be working on a lot of skills stuff, not just with the backs but with the forwards too. Working on the basics of the game."

In the light of the IRFU's pointed damning of Irish skills in their non-independent World Cup review, these comments too are instructive.

Kearney knows he has work to do to remain in Farrell's thoughts; his more exalted brother arguably must do even more to regain the new man's faith.

Rob rarely lost his starting berth under Schmidt, never mind a squad position; Dave has deviated from being a reliable Championship winner to struggling well down the pecking order.

"Obviously it is tough for him and I know how it feels myself. It's good for me too, I guess.

"It's tougher for my parents, they are congratulating one but not the other. He's won enough trophies and caps!

"Rob is still playing well, he's still fit and he still feels good. I don't think that it is a closed book for him. Lots can happen.

"He knows it's not over for him yet. He's not hanging up his international boots, he's not retiring. He's still in with a chance of getting back into the squad."

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