Behind every great team is another. Driving Ireland's Rugby World Cup ambitions is a special management group led by Head Coach Joe Schmidt. The Inpho Sports Photo Agency spent months compiling this brilliant series of images showcasing the character and personality of the backroom team.
If you've missed the stunning player portraits, you can find them through the link below.
THE DRIVE: Joe Schmidt is a private man, so this scene with his son Luke at Castle Golf Club in Rathfarnham goes a long way in demonstrating the trust among the Irish set-up for Stickland and his team.
Schmidt will leave his role as head coach at the end of the World Cup to prioritise family commitments. Schmidt has been an advocate for epilepsy sufferers in Ireland after speaking publicly about son Luke’s condition, which happily is much improved these times.
UMBRELLA GROUP: Stickland is effusive in his praise of the backroom staff to the Irish rugby squad, the unsung heroes who have become vital cogs in the Rugby World Cup project. John Sherwin and Barry Cunningham form the Video and Communications team and while more familiar with being on the other side of the lens, they aren’t bad in front of the camera either!
A splash of water over Cunningham’s umbrella is nothing he won’t be used to, working behind the scenes to capture the critical moments and key angles.
KIT AND CABOODLE: John Moran is following in the footsteps of the legendary Ireland kitmeister Patrick ‘Rala’ O’Reilly as a crucial member of the Irish backroom team. Officially the logistics manager, Moran’s role extends far beyond the nuts and bolts of getting the house in order. Pictured at the IRFU warehouse in Naas with his dog Moe, Moran is also a trusted confidante and always lends a sympathetic ear to players and other staff alike.
WATER BOY: Pictured at his practice in Limerick, masseur Willie Bennett is a picture of good health in one of his specialist recovery baths. With over 20 years of service to the Irish rugby set-up, Bennett is as much a fixture of the Irish rugby scene as a hotly-contested interprovincial match. Much like Moran, Bennett is more than a masseur, and is a vital member of the backroom team.
DAFT PUNK: A reluctant subject, Strength & Conditioning coach Jason Cowman creatively avoided the spotlight by invoking the style of his favourite band. The sharp horizon of the water, dramatic setting and outfitting creates the look and feel of a vinyl cover. Billy Stickland of Inpho describes Cowman as deeply analytical, but this image owes as much to the creativity of the man tasked with bringing the players to a physical peak at just the right time.
BELOW THE RADAR: Are the Ireland analysts the hardest working team in this country? Billy Stickland thinks they might be. Working through the night, game after game, to compile binder-upon-binder of data and analysis of every pass, tackle and much more besides.
Vinny Hammond is the team’s high performance analyst - and he has so much spare time, he’s working on a private pilot’s license! With data and analytics a crucial part of elite sport, Hammond will be a fundamental part of the Ireland jigsaw in Japan.
VIDEO STAR: Enjoying a quiet moment with his daughters at the team family day in the Shelbourne Hotel, technical analyst Mervyn Murphy swaps his trusted Mac for a more low-tech approach.
The work ethic of the analysis team is awesome, say insiders. Another reluctant subject, the juxtaposition of the personal and professional - it looks as if Murphy is still hard at work - highlights the commitment of Joe Schmidt’s backroom team.
BOOKENDS: Team manager Dean provides a link to the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, an event that Stickland covered. Hence conversation naturally turned to the differences seen in the game in the intervening 32 years.
Dean holds the cap he was conferred with for the 1987 Rugby World Cup at his home in Killiney, one of the highlights of a nine-year international career that also included the 1985 Triple Crown.
OPERATING TABLE: One shot was all it took to capture this stunning image of Head of Operations Ger Carmody clutching the clipboard he is synonymous with. Taken in a meeting room at the Shelbourne Hotel, Stickland and Carmody were interrupted by the next booking with Carmody standing on the table. As Head of Operations, Carmody needs to be on top of things, making this a fitting pose for his shoot.
HANDS ON: Both subject and photographer have an affinity with cycling, as physiotherapist Keith Fox once cycled in Rás Tailteann, while Stickland covered the Tour de France during the halcyon days of Roche and Kelly. Here with daughter Emily and sons Dylan and Jake, Fox is still a regular on hard shoulders around Ireland when not on duty with the Irish squad.
There’s a conspicuous absentee in this Farrell family portrait, with Andy’s eldest son, Owen, unable to make the shoot. Pictured here with his wife Colleen, daughters Gracie and Elleshia, son Gabriel and dog Walter, Ireland’s defence coach will step into Joe Schmidt’s shoes following the Rugby World Cup. His family are happy to call Ireland home.
RUGBY ROYALTY: The former international and current forwards coach may not be the most recognisable rugby face in this picture - his wife Sarra Elgan Rees presents coverage on BT Sport and is a daughter of former Welsh international Harold Elgan Rees.
With son Ffredi and daughter Soffia, Easterby made 65 appearances in the green jersey before moving into a coaching role with Welsh side Scarlets. He’s been with the Irish set-up as forwards coach since 2014.
PERFECT PASS: It goes without saying that skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy has played an integral part in Ireland’s World Cup prep. Murphy’s been a part of Jonathan Sexton’s development at Leinster and as a former provincial out-half himself, it is no surprise to see sons Jack and Ben also immersed in the game. Richie’s wife is Stephanie.
PRESS GANG: The frantically busy Communications manager David Ó Siocháin almost missed out on the photo series. This shoot with his sons Tom and Josh was taken just days before the Irish camp flew out to Japan, book-ending a project which began nine months ago.
RIVER DEEP: Sinéad Bennett has worked in the Team Services Department for the IRFU for over 13 years and is another vital cog in the smooth running set-up. Responsible for logistics and operational planning at the IRFU, Bennett also provides administrative support to Joe Schmidt.
KERRY GOLD: Colm Fuller is a recent addition to the Ireland set-up, having previously worked as a physiotherapist with Munster and London Irish. The son of Killarney is pictured here with his wife Ailionora and two daughters Fiadh and Eile. The inevitability of modern day rugby is that Fuller and his physio colleagues will be busy in Japan.
VAN-TASTIC: One of the characters in the backroom team, Ruth Wood-Martin’s role as Performance Nutritionist means plenty of advance travel and reconnaissance on hotels and facilities to ensure the players’ nutritional needs can be provided.
Wood-Martin also works with educating players in Irish development squads, but when not on duty she can be found travelling in her distinctive orange van - and matching outfits.
CHECK UP: Team doctor Ciaran Cosgrave’s impressive CV includes stints with Liverpool and Leinster. He has been part of the Irish set-up since June 2016. A specialist in Sports medicine, daughter Naoise and son Cian seem to have caught the bug.
TWO WHEELERS: with granddaughter Fiadh, Youghal native David Revins has provided 12 years of service to the Irish set-up as a masseur, having previously worked with Munster Rugby. He is in some nick himself, owing much to his love of cycling. Revins is based in Glanmire, Co Cork, the location for this shoot.
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