NEW Ireland coach Declan Kidney admitted yesterday to being “intimidated” by the task ahead.
However he reiterated that Munster remain his number one priority until after the Heineken Cup while adding that he is eagerly looking forward to the challenge presented by the new role and that he will be more than equal to the demands when at a press conference in Cork.
“You’d have to be intimidated by such a job,” he agreed. “Coaching a national side with the way sport is now and with so much emotion, you see the kids wearing the jersey and knowing that you have to represent them the best way you can.
“If I stop to think about it, I will be intimidated. So the trick is not to stop and to keep going. That’s the challenge.
“If one of the players came up to me and said he had a chance to play for Ireland but said he was thinking of staying put, I’d tell him, ‘you will on your ear, off you go’. You have to challenge yourself at the highest level.”
Pressed if it was difficult for him to give up the job he has filled so successfully with Munster and one he has clearly loved to an enormous extent, the one-time PBC school teacher replied: “I suppose yes and no is the answer. It’s yes because I have a great job and no because it’s such a great honour. That sums it up better than anything else.
“It’s been a busy time over the last few weeks and a brilliant time. Just a few weeks ago, we went over to a top team like Gloucester trying to stay in the Heineken Cup. Then there was Coventry, then we were fronting up for two games last week and within 48 hours of today, Anthony Foley is going to captain Munster against Glasgow in the Magners League in his last home game. So there’s a lot happening.
“That’s the nature of the job and you just love it.
“But it’s a huge honour to be asked to coach your national team. There are probably only 15 better jobs than coaching a national team and that’s playing for it. I felt that way at schools, at 19s and there were rifts to leave those teams at that particular time. It was a rift to leave Munster six years ago and it will be a rift now, too, but when you look at the honour that’s being bestowed, then you can’t say no.
‘‘I’ve only ever wanted to coach sides that wanted me to coach them. I’ve been lucky in working with so many brilliant people. If you have that kind of support behind you, the coach is really only a front for everything else that goes on behind you. The back room team at Munster is every bit as good as the one out on the pitch and usually one is a reflection of the other.”
It has taken seven weeks between the resignation of Eddie O’Sullivan and the appointment of Kidney as his successor. That was due in some part to the latter’s reluctance to sever his ties with Munster and accordingly it has been a pretty emotional time for himself and his family, all the more so because of what lies in wait at the Millennium Stadium on May 24th. It’s also a road he has been down in the past and he believes that helps.
“What we need to do is put past experience to good use here,” he reasoned. “I was fortunate to have that experience in 2002 when, if you like, Niall O’Donovan and myself were double jobbing with Ireland. We knew coming up to the final that it was going to be our last game. We have learned from then that we just have to park that. It’s a big day for everybody involved but it’s definitely not about me because I won’t be playing — that’s the one selection I can guarantee you.
“All we want is to be able to look at one another afterwards and know that we gave it everything and not let any subsidiary thing get in the way.
“I’d like to think we can put the experience of 2002 to good effect. Looking back on that game, you have to put your hands up and accept that Leicester were the better than us on the day. I don’t think it had an effect on us that day but you want to use that to ensure that it doesn’t have an effect this time as well.”
Four years later, of course, Munster scored a memorable final victory in the final at the Millennium Stadium but wondrous and all as that occasion was, Kidney doesn’t necessarily regard it as the highlight of his term in office.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career,” he pointed out. “I’ve worked with smashing people and the dressing room was always a special place to be after a lot of great occasions. You think back to the away quarter-final over in Stade Francais in 2002, Bordeaux in 2000 was obviously a great day. There just have been so many of them, even the recent game against Ospreys — we made 14 changes from the previous game and they came up with a win. So I won’t single out any of them because all the players I’ve worked with have always given everything and hopefully we can continue to create that environment.”
Now that Ireland are ranked 8th in the world and must play New Zealand twice and Australia once before the draw for the 2011 World Cup is made next December, it looks like they could face an enormous task in three years time in doing any better in the game’s biggest competition than they did last September in France. Typically, Kidney put a positive spin on such a scenario.
Obviously the seedings have an effect in the Rugby World Cup but once you get close to a game, you just have to focus in on who you are playing. The fixture list is a challenging and daunting one but if you ask any of the players, they’ll tell you they’d like to be playing those teams.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved