Wednesday 13 November 2019

David Kelly: 'Myopic short-term focus may force Farrell and Kenny to ditch long-term vision'

Andy Farrell and (inset) Stephen Kenny
Andy Farrell and (inset) Stephen Kenny
New Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has a tough task on his hands ahead of 2020. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
'Both Mick McCarthy and Joe Schmidt were guilty of becoming more conservative.' Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

It has not been a good week for those of a pronounced patriotic bent. As one Irish national team continued to stagger with the prospect of tournament football at Euro 2020 drawing so tantalisingly close, but possibly out of reach, another crashed and burned when within an equally enticing grasp of an historic final-four berth at the Rugby World Cup.

Both Mick McCarthy and Joe Schmidt were guilty of becoming more conservative the nearer they are to the tournament prize; their selections becoming less reliant on trust and innovation.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

Instead of seeing a broad, sweeping canvas, the breadth of their vision is as limited as that sketched upon a postage stamp.

And Irish supporters are arguably more guilty than anyone of being suckered into this addictive surge to acquire the instant, sweet smell of success.

From this writer's decidedly neutral point of view - one who prefers the parochialism of the club game but, again, each to their own - it would appear that the international supporters get the teams they deserve.

A brief chat with a post-Parnell Park punter in the Palace Bar on Sunday evening presented an interesting proposition for an Irish rugby fan. Would s/he have sacrificed the famous Grand Slam of 2018 if it meant qualifying for a semi-final in Japan?

Or more, would s/he have turned down a Grand Slam in 2020, from a team including, say, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney, if it meant Ireland reached the last four?

It is a fascinating dilemma and one that may face Schmidt's successor, Andy Farrell, when he takes the reins for the 2020 Six Nations.

Read more here:

His paymasters demand a top-two finish in a tournament which, with three home matches next spring, will ultimately drop 80 per cent of the IRFU's revenue into the coffers.

Little wonder, then, that the emphasis for international rugby coaches has been to focus on success in this tournament.

And so it should also be of little surprise that when a World Cup looms into view, respective coaches have become suddenly flummoxed, attempting to shoehorn four years of development into one, or else just blundering along in the hope that what sustained them before might do so again. It has always failed.

Ireland has never been comfortable with implementing either the ruthlessness of an England in 2003 or the elaborate self-sacrifice of a New Zealand, where every single province plays the same way as the national side.

Could they start to do so now?

Irish underage teams have recently become a template for the type of expansive game that their senior side were strictly instructed not to play but it will take time and patience to implement a radical overhaul in style and attitude.

And it is easy for an U-20 side because nobody really cares whether they win or lose.

Yet if Farrell sends out an experimental, young team that loses at home to, say, Scotland and Italy, will the fans still be singing the 'Fields of Athenry' at Aviva Stadium, content that this is the path towards future, sustainable World Cup progress rather than immediate success?

A similar debate is occurring in Irish football. Euro 2020 qualification will mean an elaborate drinking session in Dublin. 'The Fields' will get another run.

McCarthy is relying on tried and trusted players and an equally archaic style of play that, not surprisingly, mirrors the approaches of his two predecessors.

All three reigns were defined by the overarching need to qualify for a Euros at the expense of any meaningful or lasting development.

Only a minority quibbled; everyone else got drunk.

Now Stephen Kenny, an anointed successor, has the opportunity to develop an exciting cadre of young players, who are being trusted to play a style of football that evidence demonstrates offers the only route to long-lasting success.

However, when he gets the senior international job will he be expected, like Farrell, to achieve instant results based upon any means necessary?

Or will he be allowed the freedom to develop a more meaningful imprint upon selection and style that might, in the long run, provide many more gains in terms of adapting to tournament play, even at the cost of some pain along the way?

Schmidt was much criticised for his intransigence but his conditions were straitened; at Leinster, his true ambition was allowed to flourish because he had the time to develop his players and playing style.

With Ireland, he had less time and less access within a system where four feeder teams play different styles of rugby; if and when he coaches New Zealand, he will not face such constriction.

But Farrell will face such restrictions here.

Kenny's obstacles are even more immense; he has much less access to players and his sport faces much more scrutiny in this country than rugby and often faces disproportionately excessive expectations.

Both he and Farrell will face that difficult choice between long-term planning and short-term success.

It should be an easy choice. But in the end, as is always the way in Irish sport, they will not be the ones making it.

Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport