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.