Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Declan Kidney's fate sealed a long time ago

For a man who would, happily, have signed in for all formal engagements as Irish coach under an assumed name, it isn't unreasonable to imagine Declan Kidney feeling some tingle of relief today.

He has always radiated the air of someone trying not to intrude on the broader narrative, going about his work with a smile of equanimity and the voice for a confessional.

Even when his team delivered Ireland's first Grand Slam in 61 years, Kidney could have been sitting in a library such was his detachment from the general maelstrom of emotion in Cardiff. Save the occasional thumbs up to some familiar faces in the stands, he seemed – if anything – uncomfortable with the commotion.

When, later in '09, he was asked to contribute the foreword to a popular sports book, he specifically requested that he be identified – without embellishment – by his name alone.

But there must be hurt in Kidney's world too just now at the palpable coldness of yesterday's IRFU announcement that, despite his contract running into summer, his role as head coach was ceasing immediately.

True, this relationship probably ran its course some time ago, so the end was never going to be especially fraternal, particularly on the back of Ireland's worst Championship campaign since the inception of the Six Nations.

We will never know the fine detail of his last meeting with the grandiosely titled National Team Review Group (not on the record at least), because it simply isn't Kidney's way to go public on what the Union's committee men regard as private business. But it would be naive to imagine that he was timidly acquiescent in their company.

All the indications were that he was keen to oversee the June tour to North America, given his insistence on being part of the reconnaissance party in January.

While Kidney knew that his relationship with some of Irish rugby's marquee players had been irretrievably damaged by events of recent months, he would have felt it important that he be afforded the courtesy of seeing his contract out to its natural end.

That this was denied him suggests the discussions of recent days might have borne a certain edge.

If so, it probably represents the dying kick of a prehistoric system that, bizarrely, still licenses the Union's amateur committee men to demand a tactical presentation from the Irish coach before major internationals.

The IRFU has still to appoint the Performance Director upon whom, theoretically, the task of choosing future national and provincial coaches should fall.

To that end, it would surely have suited them if Kidney achieved even moderate success in this year's Championship to facilitate an extension of his contract to the 2015 World Cup.

But a return of just three points from a possible 10, even in light of the remarkable injury epidemic, forced their hand, particularly given the urgent need to sell 10-year tickets for the brand new Lansdowne Road.

Les Kiss will probably view his interim appointment as a virtual job interview now, yet the Union has seldom faced a greater imperative to charm the public with its next choice of senior Irish coach.

Kidney never did quite follow up the historic achievement of '09 and it is a moot point if even that was a natural inheritance from an Eddie O'Sullivan-regime that had delivered four Championship wins out of five.

Yet, his record of a Grand Slam, two Heineken Cups and an U-19 World Cup will forever identify the quiet Corkman as one of Irish rugby's most remarkable figures.

Typically, he chooses to step away without either artifice or melodrama.

But there's seldom room for happy endings in professional sport.

And this, palpably, isn't one of them.

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