Kidney opts for simple strategy
When Declan Kidney was cutting his coaching teeth with the U-15s at PBC Cork in the mid-1980s, he would begin each campaign with a squad meeting and a blackboard.
On it were set out the goals for the season. Number two on the list was always “win the Munster Schools Junior Cup”, which one would have assumed deserved top billing, but never got it — for that was always taken up by the simple instruction to “enjoy yourselves”.
Between 1983 and 1988, they won five out of six Junior Cups, at which point Kidney took his blackboard up to the U-18s and, after two semi-final defeats in 1989 and 1990, Kidney won the next three Senior Schools titles in a row.
It is a simple philosophy and one that Kidney has adhered to throughout his highly successful career — enjoyment and victory go hand-in-hand — and one he will employ on Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand and Australia over the next month.
There is an enthusiasm among the Ireland management team for this expedition that is born out of the opportunity to get stuck in again following a frustrating hiatus since the Six Nations.
It is an anticipation not widely shared after a season of disappointing results and worrying long-term portents, with the result that an expedition which, after last season's Grand Slam, looked perfectly set up as the next psychological step on the journey to World Cup fulfilment, now has the potential to copper-fasten long-established insecurities relating to downing southern hemisphere nations on their own turf.
New Zealand have never been beaten by Ireland, home or away, and the Wallabies have not been bested in Australia since the Ward-Campbell tour of 1979.
The extensive injury list and mixed form of the provinces has created the possibility of a 'tour from hell' situation, particularly given that Ireland's New Zealand bases of New Plymouth and Rotorua (where they will also be based for next year's World Cup) have Bordeaux potential should things come off the rails. Bordeaux was the scene of the majority of Ireland's World Cup angst in 2007 when the squad, stuck in the hell of their industrial-park hotel, found little opportunity to raise flagging morale.
Although, in terms of games played, the season has not been as long as has been made out, it has been mentally draining, particularly for those immersed in the intensity of last summer's Lions trip to South Africa.
The nightmare scenario sees Ireland suffering a heavy defeat to the All Blacks on Saturday week before staggering on to the non-Test ambush that is the New Zealand Maoris (who make a habit of claiming overseas scalp) before being run ragged by an ever-improving Wallabies side in Brisbane.
After the glories of 2009, the gloss has come off the Ireland management team somewhat following a disappointing Six Nations campaign.
However, this is just the sort of challenge Kidney relishes. He has targets to aim at — a first win over the All Blacks, a first win in the southern hemisphere in 31 years.
The Barbarians named their team yesterday and included Irish veterans Malcolm O'Kelly, who recently announced his retirement from playing, in the second-row and Alan Quinlan in the back-row.
Although out of the Ireland picture for some time, Quinlan was deemed unlucky not to have made the touring party but now has the opportunity to make a statement on a ground where he has produced some of his best displays.