The new decade will bring with it a new head coach for Ireland and Dave Kearney believes Andy Farrell will usher in an era where the players have greater freedom to express themselves on and off the pitch.
The Leinster wing was among the 45 players invited to the national team’s gathering at the new training base at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown last week and he spoke yesterday of a camp where people felt able to express themselves that bit more.
That the word “enjoyable” was used was a statement in itself.
Ireland enjoyed some great days under Joe Schmidt’s watch but there was a sense that the Kiwi’s full-on style of leadership and painstaking attention to detail became counter-productive during 2019.
Last week’s get-together didn’t involve much in terms of on-the-field activity. Farrell and his coaching team worked on shape, other generalities and what they want to change as the next Six Nations and World Cup cycle begins.
What was perfectly evident, though, was the more relaxed vibe.
Kearney said: “You could say that. I guess other guys react differently to those sorts of environments, depending on a player’s personality.
Some people don’t like that really intense environment where every mistake you make in training or in meetings or anything like that is scrutinised. Players react differently to that, I guess.
Going forward (it’ll be) a more relaxed environment, less intense. Every player is going be able to express themselves a bit more.”
It will take time for the players to adapt.
Training last week was never meant to be a full-on affair but players will always run or tackle that bit harder when a new sheriff is in town and Farrell and attack coach Mike Catt had to tell some of them to dial it down such was their eagerness.
Farrell was vague when asked about the strategy his Ireland side will adopt when speaking last week. He will clearly not be held hostage to any one attacking philosophy but there was enough of a hint that Ireland will look to retain that hard physical edge honed under Schmidt while adding some strings to their bow.
Catt’s role in affairs going forward, both literally and metaphorically, will be pivotal. None of the Irish players have worked under him before and there was time for little more than a meeting with the new attack coach and some basic field work last week.
Farrell has intimated that the attacking strategy will be a long-term project. Catt is richly experienced after coaching stints in the Premiership and with England and Italy and Kearney seems full sure that we are in for a more creative production from here on in.
“It’s probably similar to the way that we play here (at Leinster), I guess. We play that expansive game. Everyone likes to get their hands on the ball, we get the ball to the edges, wingers working off their wings, 15s playing in that first receiver role too, 12 and 13 working around the corner as well. For backs we will probably be able to express ourselves a bit more, get their hands on the ball a bit more.”
Kearney’s presence in camp last week was testament to his return to form and fitness of late after too many years pockmarked by injuries and rehab work. He has played for Ireland just three times in the least three seasons. His last Six Nations appearance was in 2016.
Superb at times for Leinster this last few weeks, he has a decent shot at making the squad for this year’s campaign although it looks as if time may well have caught up with his brother given Rob Kearney’s omission from the 45-man stock-take prior to Christmas.
The elder of the Kearney boys will be 34 in March but Jordan Larmour has clearly been earmarked for the 15 jersey with club and country. That has left Kearney in the unfamiliar position of being on the outside looking in at events in terms of the national team.
“He obviously asked how it was, what we did and what the atmosphere was like,” said his 30-year old sibling.
In his head too, he knows it’s not over for him yet. He’s not hanging up his international boots, he’s not retiring.
“He’s still in with a chance of getting back into the squad. Personally, I thought he was in good form at the World Cup. He hasn’t played that much since but when he has played for us, he has done well.
"So he’s definitely still in the mix, in my opinion.”