RONAN O'GARA: A club's culture will define success or failure in any sport

YOU can shift some wasters out the door. You can spend a king’s ransom on reputations. You can fill a dressing room with star turns but without the right culture at a club, you’re going to hell in a handcart. It’s the same for GAA, rugby or football, writes Ronan O’Gara

The more I am learning, the less I take for granted what I savoured in the Munster dressing room every day as a player. A club’s culture is an unspoken language. The trademark. You can’t see it or hear it.

You feel it.

Gary Neville got the boot this week from Valencia. He had problems with the language (the problem being he didn’t speak it), and results clearly weren’t good enough. Does that mean he jumped too soon into management, that he wasn’t up to such a job?

What he might have lacked was an understanding of the culture at the club, and that takes years, not months, to get a handle on. I like Neville’s analysis, and the posting in Valencia had an obvious appeal, for sure.

But saying no to some job offers is a skill in itself.

The rules change when you become the boss man. I am working as hard as a I can at Racing 92, but I am not the boss man, so ultimately I don’t have the final say and I can’t shape things as much as I’d like.

That can be frustrating at times. Hopefully that’ll come in time. Until you have that confidence in the scope of your knowledge and the project you are taking on, you have to say no to certain jobs.

How much damage has Neville done to his cv? People are deadly. They put you in a box and say, he’s a failure. Now he drops down a couple of rungs. But Neville couldn’t have got his stamp on the Mestalla dressing room.

He would have wanted to create a dressing room in his own likeness, but that’s a process that takes time. I am in Paris two years, but still getting to grips with the psychology of the dressing room. Racing are coming off the back of two straight Top 14 losses, the latter against Toulon damaging from a psychological point of view. Freddie Michalak kicked a last-gasp penalty to beat us, but that’s not the story.

Toulon put out a mixture of second and third-string players who were bidding to fill the bench in the Champions Cup quarter-final against us next weekend.

Their coach Bernard Laporte had a commando-type operation in mind — Racing put 20-30 points on their reserves and Toulon have all the motivation going into the European Cup quarter final.

In front of 40,000 people in Lille, Toulon scored two good tries off turnover ball, while Racing tried to play all the rugby. Not always the best way to win a game. We weren’t clever.

The psychological damage it has inflicted on us is considerable. In Ireland, if you lose two games on the spin, you come out fighting. In France, it goes the opposite way.

If we lose to Bordeaux this weekend, some would tell you it’s not worth our while turning up against Toulon. If you said this back in Cork, they’d think you were doing the Kerryman on it. Reverse psychology.

Here it’s fact. In France, you lose two-in-a-row, you’ve got a problem in the group. Confidence falls apart.

I find that bizarre. In Munster, it was ‘get the dander up, lads, there’s no fu*%ing way we are going to lose three-in-a-row’. And maybe Gary Neville saw a bit of that. The dressing room culture in Ireland is markedly better, hence everyone will be bouncing off the walls in Ravenhill this evening, and the Aviva Stadium tomorrow. Leinster will be disappointed and angry having failed to capitalise on a winning opportunity in Galway last weekend, turning 7-0 down with use of the wind in the second half. It should be nigh impossible to generate any excitement in the Pro12 run-in with no Irish team preparing for a Champions Cup quarter-final, but a number of things have conspired to create a buzz.

One is the Connacht story, which we addressed here last week. Every point now is getting them closer to the magic number they have in mind. Team meetings have decided what they require from each block of games. An away point tonight. Four at home to Munster. Also energising the competition is the race for the top six, and the fundamental importance of not missing out on next season’s Road to Edinburgh.

Munster have failed to make the knockout rounds in Europe two years in a row, but failure to make Europe at all would be catastrophic.

Tomorrow is a big game for the likes of Rory Scannell, who’s been one of the backline putting his hand up of late. Now is his chance. Leinster will revert to their first choice half-backs and all told, they are still the best equipped Irish province when they have a full squad.

The fact few are talking about the semi-final pairings can be interpreted as a level of uncertainty about who the eventual winner could be. Glasgow are still my favourites, even though they are only four points ahead now of Edinburgh, who could miss out altogether to accommodate an Italian side in the Champions Cup.

Such inclusiveness is laudable though not altogether fair. The spat over Italy’s place at rugby’s top table continued in France this week with Toulon’s Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia’s captain) laying into Sergio Parisse’s dismissal of the idea of Six Nations relegation. Gorgodze wants the wooden-spoonists to play off against the top Tier 2 nation, and if one is seeking a fair and equitable system, why wouldn’t the powers that be look at that? Italy has spent a lot of money on academies and the professional game without any real return.

The new national coach, Conor O’Shea, has his work cut out. He pulled a few strokes getting Steve Aboud off the IRFU, which, given O’Shea’s contacts in the game, is a strong vindication of Aboud’s credentials as a rugby boffin.

The desire to grow my coaching education daily means I’m not ready for such a role. As long as I am learning, titles and positions are not as important as the impact one has on the group. If you work with secure people, there is no issue what title you have after your name. You only move when you believe it’s a step up and it’s a club or country that shares your values. That’s a big question in my head here.

At Racing, I have an input but no more than that into who we sign. That limits you somewhat. The buck stopped with Gary Neville and he would have used the summer to move out some deadwood from Valencia, but the owners felt the players were the lesser of their problems.

Neville would have invested everything he had emotionally in that Valencia dressing room, so this will hurt like hell.

I feel his pain.

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