Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Why Ireland had to remove Kidney

Declan Kidney left his job as Ireland coach on Tuesday
Declan Kidney left his job as Ireland coach on Tuesday

Rugby coaches stand or fall on results. It is the sole criterion. Everybody loves a winner is an old cliché but its survival in our lexicon confirms its accuracy and its relevance.

Declan Kidney was a winner. He won two Heineken Cups with Munster before assuming the top position in Irish rugby when he succeeded Eddie O'Sullivan following that second European success in 2008.

And it would be wrong to dismiss his achievements as Ireland head coach. Indeed he could, with justification, claim to be Ireland's most successful international coach.

The manner in which his era has come to an end offers a contradiction. It wasn't pretty.

Of course there were extenuating circumstances attached to Ireland's awful Six Nations Championship. They were best summed up by having to deploy Peter O'Mahony on the left wing for 50 minutes against Italy after running out of healthy backs.

But, in truth, the wheels had started to come off the Kidney wagon long before the trip to Rome this season.

As a coach Kidney has always polarised opinion. He has never been universally loved; not by all members of the public, not by all of the media people he has dealt with on a constant basis over the 17 years of his professional coaching career and not by his players.

It has been said down the years that Kidney has always had an ability to get the best from his players, that they played for him either because they loved him and wanted to repay the faith he placed in them or because they disliked him and wanted to prove something to him.

He always gave the impression he never really cared which reason applied as long as the results were forthcoming.

Since 2009 the results haven't been forthcoming. For sure there have been one-off successes. Ireland defeating Australia in the 2011 World Cup is a highlight. The seven tries against Argentina last November another.

But those highs have long been overshadowed by the lows. Ireland's loss to an awful Scotland this year was a particular nadir. The failure to advance beyond the quarter finals in the World Cup can only been seen as a failure, the one-off result against Australia notwithstanding.

Consistency, or rather a lack of same, is the stick that has been used to beat Declan Kidney in recent seasons.

Statistics can be manipulated to suit any agenda or viewpoint. It is, however, impossible to find any way to manipulate the statistic that since Ireland's unbeaten run in 2009, Kidney has managed just 16 wins from 40 matches. It is rather damning.

Indeed it is hard to find refuge from an overall winning ratio of just 51% and one of 43% against Tier One sides. Declan Kidney has coached Ireland in 53 Tests to 27 wins, three draws and 23 losses.

It would be churlish in the extreme not to acknowledge the positives though. Like the introductions of Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien, Conor Murray and Mike Ross to the international arena. And this past season Luke Marshall, Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan, Iain Henderson and Craig Gilroy have all gained international experience.

"We won a Grand Slam for the first time in 60 years in 2009 and yet Kidney may be remembered for a lacklustre performance at this year's Six Nations," said former Ireland skipper Keith Wood.

"I think this was inevitable. If you look back at the summer, and the 60-0 drubbing by the All Blacks and the decisions he made in and around that time, some of them were a bit questionable. I think he put himself under a lot of pressure."

It has been a turbulent five seasons for Kidney.

At the time of his appointment in 2008 he was the outstanding candidate, the most successful coach in Ireland and he floated into the position on a wave of goodwill that offered him spiritual nourishment in those early days.

But Nothing in Kidney's previous existence could possibly have adequately prepared him for the trials that lay ahead or for the five seasons since his appointment.

The truth is rugby coaches are like perishable goods in that they have a limited shelf-life. Kidney was coming to the end of his fifth season and it has been increasingly clear over the past Six Nations campaign that it was time for him to take objective stock of where he and his Irish team were going.

The emotional ties are considerable for the players gave him unequivocal support throughout a demanding campaign. But their record of winning only one match in five was comparable to the worst run of results Ireland has ever endured since the advent of professionalism.

When it came to Ireland, Kidney always wore his heart on his sleeve.

In the end, though, it was impossible to escape the feeling that the job got too much, that the negative results were having a detrimental effect on the morale of the group and on his decision- making. Circumstances have not been his friend on occasion but it would be remiss not to suggest the coach has been the architect of his own misfortunes at times.

No coach in the world would have been able to better manage the injuries Ireland have had to contend with. But in jettisoning some older players did Kidney help or hinder Ireland's chances of success?

Other decisions have also backfired. Appointing Jamie Heaslip to the captaincy was a nod to the future. O'Driscoll will not be available to Ireland for the 2015 World Cup and this was clearly a factor in the decision to strip him of the captaincy. But surely it could have been handled better than it was. When the coach acknowledged Ireland's greatest player was upset at and disagreed with the decision it was recognised that the situation had been handled poorly.

And surely a better and more fitting way should have been found to end the international careers of Ronan O'Gara and, presumably, Donncha O'Callaghan than dropping them midway through a campaign that was racing to an inglorious end in any case?

There has never been a coach or player who has been universally acclaimed. Everyone has their detractors – and Kidney was never short of those.

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