Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Kidney has staked his claim for the top job

As Munster once again prepare themselves for an almighty tilt at the Heineken Cup, their coach Declan Kidney could already have been appointed the new Ireland coach before a ball is kicked against Saracens at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Sunday.

Well-placed sources have indicated that the appointment is expected, at least internally, before this week is out.

But it is unlikely that Kidney will be officially unveiled until next week so as not to disrupt Munster's preparations for the bid to reach the Heineken Cup for fourth time in eight years.

Kidney has been the hot favourite for the job after both Pat Howard and John Mitchell ruled themselves out of contention.

South Africa's World Cup winning coach Jake White may have caused a betting frenzy earlier in the week when he was spotted in Dublin for a coaching/referees' symposium held at the IRB offices in St Stephen's Green offices.

But White, who has big business commitments in South Africa, has always insisted he was only interested in the England or perhaps Lions job.

And it is entirely appropriate that Kidney's expected elevation should come just as he is on the verge of bringing more European glory to Munster.

Kidney may have upset several Leinster players during his short spell at Donnybrook before he moved back to Munster following Alan Gaffney's departure to Saracens.

He might not be hugely popular with all of the powerbrokers in the Union either.

Some former players have also questioned his tactical prowess.

But what is not in doubt is his outstanding success at every level of the game in Ireland.

Kidney is a shrewd and canny operator in the mould of Sir Alex Ferguson and his man management skills, so important when dealing with elite players is second to none.

If the IRFU are serious about their preference to promote home-grown coaches, the weight of evidence in his favour is overwhelming.

He started out with PBC Cork juniors in the 1980s and won five cups in six years, took over the seniors and once the great Crescent team of 1989/90 had moved on, won three on the bounce.

As Ireland Schools coach he took a team to New Zealand in 1992 and narrowly lost (27-25) to a side packed with future All Blacks.

The following year, Ireland's schools team won the Triple Crown.

There followed World Cup success with the Brian O'Driscoll-inspired U-19s and a clean sweep with the A team and, then outstanding success with Munster in the Heineken Cup.

In between, he spent three unhappy years as Eddie O'Sullivan's assistant between 2001 and 2004, largely because of a personality clash and a sense that the head coach wanted control of every aspect of team Ireland.

When Kidney was jettisoned from the coaching ticket in 2004, he was harshly treated given that when he was first appointed to the post it was generally assumed that he was the heir apparent to O'Sullivan.

Instead the IRFU went down the road of backing O'Sullivan to keep on running.

Kidney's worth however can be seen in the manner in which he transformed the Munster players on their return from the miserable World Cup experience and quickly got them winning and with a smile on their faces.

If O'Sullivan was regarded as Ireland's most successful coach ever, with three Triple Crowns in four years, Kidney can arguably be regarded as Irish rugby's most successful coach ever.

Yes, Kidney has earned his spurs and served his time.

It is his time now.

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