DECLAN KIDNEY was yesterday rewarded for his achievements in 2009 by being named as the Philips Sports Manager of the Year for the third time in four years.
However, the Irish coach has already set his sights on 2010.
Unbeaten in 11 games in the calendar year, Ireland’s potential path to further glory is a complicated one with away matches against France, England, New Zealand and Australia in the first six months of next year.
Retaining the Six Nations title will, in all probability, demand that the Grand Slam holders claim at least one win from games in the Stade de France and Twickenham, while it is 30 years since an Irish team has beaten one of the three southern hemisphere giants in their own back yards.
“In the next six months we go to London, Paris, New Plymouth and Brisbane,” Kidney said. “They are four of the toughest matches you can get in world rugby. That is a fresh challenge for us because we know when we go to play those teams that they will be ready for it because of what we won last year.
“That goes with the territory and should help us improve. We can either let it help us improve or submerge us. The thing is to look forward to it, face the challenge head on and see where we stand at the end of it.”
Such heady talk is a long way from this time 12 months ago when Kidney’s first few games as coach produced a facile defeat of Canada, a dispiriting loss to New Zealand and a forgettable win over Argentina.
“This time last year we had just managed to beat Argentina and hang onto eighth place (in the world rankings) and sometimes it is all about little acorns, isn’t it?
“By winning that match we stayed eighth and the World Cup draw could have been worse than it was. A lot of people said it was a bit of a dour game and it was but sometimes you get a bit of confidence from that.
“The provinces went really well in December and January and then, with the little (training) camp we had as well, with a combination of all those things we managed to beat France by three tries to two and it all just mushroomed from there.”
The magnitude of Kidney and his team’s achievement can be measured by the men the former Munster coach edged out for the prestigious manager of the year award in Dublin yesterday afternoon.
Also up for the award were John Oxx, who guided Sea The Stars to such a legendary year, Michael Cheika, who brought the Heineken Cup to Leinster, and Brian Cody, who masterminded Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row success.
“The likes of Brian Cody, Jack O’Connor and John Oxx are amazing coaches in their own right. It is a massive honour for me to be mentioned in the same breath,” said Kidney. “Maybe I’ll have a chat with them later on and pick up a few more tips from them.”
Also present at the Shelbourne Hotel was Marco Tardelli, assistant manager to Giovanni Trapattoni who won the monthly award for November.
It is three weeks since Thierry Henry’s handball in the Stade de France. Asked if he was still angry about what happened in Paris, Tardelli said no but added that he was still hugely disappointed for the players.
The draw for the European Championship qualifiers will be made next February in Warsaw. With Ireland again in the third group of seeds Tardelli predicted that, whatever the group, qualification will prove equally difficult.
“Yes, it will be difficult, as difficult as the last campaign, but hopefully Henry will have retired and it will be possible to qualify,” he joked.
The 12 Philips Sports Managers Monthly Award winners were:
December 2008: John Brudair: GAA: Dromcollogher-Broadford; January 2009: Mark Scannell: Basketball: Team Montenotte; February: Declan Kidney: Rugby: Ireland; March: Declan Kidney: Rugby: Ireland; April: Phil Simmons: Cricket: Irish team; May: Michael Cheika: Rugby: Leinster; June: John Oxx: Racing: Sea Of Stars; July: Mick O’Dwyer: GAA: Wicklow; August: Conor Counihan: GAA: Cork; September: Brian Cody and Jack O’Connor: GAA: Kilkenny and Kerry; October: Pat Fenlon: Soccer: Bohemians; November: Giovanni Trapattoni: Soccer: Ireland.
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