Kidney faces awesome coaching challenge


 I came across Brendan Moran’s picture earlier today from the 2003 World Cup in Australia when Declan Kidney was assistant to Eddie O’Sullivan. You may recall at the time Kidney was the rugby equivalent of ‘dead man walking’, for when O’Sullivan’s contract had been extended before the squad left, it was obvious his number two wasn’t going to be his number two for much longer. Less than a year, in fact.  

Kidney had got the news of O’Sullivan’s extension as he was packing his bags for the trip Down Under. To say that the World Cup must have been torture for him is to acknowledge that sticking needles in your eyes is no fun.

 He was there at training  every day, doing what he could to make a contribution – which in O’Sullivan’s eyes wasn’t a lot. Truth was the head coach couldn’t wait to get rid of his assistant. That World Cup was the Eddie and Woody show, as Keith Wood inched towards the exit and Ireland squeezed out of their pool only to be emptied by France in the quarters.

In all of this Declan Kidney was an afterthought. I admired the way he kept it together in that set-up where clearly he was surplus to requirements. He didn’t sulk and didn’t moan and specifically he didn’t spin to us behind the scenes.

 Sometimes though we wondered what was going through his head in those press conferences when all the questions would flow to Eddie, and Deccie was like a dry river bed that hadn’t seen a drop of water in months. Did he ever think that somehow he would get through all of this and come back to a World Cup, sitting where Eddie O’Sullivan was seated at that moment?

 Well if he did then the joy of seeing it come to fruition has been confined by the current circumstances. The squad fly out of Dublin airport in two hours and Kidney’s plans of bringing a fit and ready to rock squad are in shreds. Was it not appropriate then that Gordon D’Arcy should injure his calf at a ‘recovery session’ this morning?

 So, the group departs with the following stats tucked away in their suitcases: No wins from four warm-up Tests; Tryless in three of those Tests; Only three fit props on the plane; Neither of the Grand Slam centres, O’Driscoll & D’Arcy, are fit, and one of them – D’Arcy – not on the plane until later in the week; Only one of the five back-rowers, Denis Leamy, is both fit and up to required match speed. And he is not first choice.

 The effect of D’Arcy and Healy arriving late will mean that live scrums in training are out, and putting what would have been the first choice backline together is now on the back burner. You could almost say that’s incidental however. The bigger issue is how Kidney keeps it all together in the face of disintegration.

Eight years ago he put the best side out when he was on the periphery. Now he is in the eye of the storm, and facing a psychological test trying to rescue players some of whom know him a long time and might be harder to reach for that very reason. If the fatigue we’ve seen on the field this month is matched by weariness between the ears then Kidney’s 2003 experience will seem enjoyable by comparison. And if he succeeds, then he can go and live in the big white house in the Phoenix Park, and save us the price of an election.



About Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning has been involved in rugby all of his life as a player, coach and journalist. He has been rugby correspondent on the Sunday Independent since 1996, and has been reporting on the game since the mid 1980s when he stopped playing with Clontarf. In 2007 his book From There to Here, a definitive account of Ireland’s transition from amateur to professional rugby, was published to critical acclaim.
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3 Responses to Kidney faces awesome coaching challenge

  1. Brian Hand says:

    It will be alright on the night…Part 7.

  2. Eoin Daly says:

    Dont understand everyone’s shock and surprise with the warm up games- obviously they were just an exercise to squeeze another few quid out of Joe Public before heading off to our now Traditional World Cup Disaster – On top of that Ireland historically take large breaks between greatness – anything from 15 to 30 years before we produce a team that can compete and win (1948-51, late 60s early 70s, 1985(followed by the Wooden Spoon in 1986, 2004-2008) – so we may have to wait till 2025 before we are there again. If you take into account the average age of our players (29), we of course are going to get more than our fair share of injuries and considering D’Arcy and O Driscoll have rarely stayed fit together for 2 matches running it was always going to be problematic having them both available. Scrape past the US, Decent 1st 40 against Australia and then the usual reality check, no idea about Russia but will be lucky to have a team left after that and a battering up front from Italy to get us to the Airport for the 3rd October- Can’t wait !!!!

  3. Conor McDonald says:

    Very simple, tell them to go out and enjoy themselves. Have a bit of fun in the training camps. Relax their minds. Even against the Aussie’s. See what happens. Shackles will be off, pressure will be off. Bet ye they perform. Unfortunately the media wont let them, mind you either will the IRFU ….. pity!

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