Kidney vows to keep final focus

DECLAN KIDNEY last night promised Munster fans he won’t allow his appointment as new Ireland coach interfere with his preparation of the side to meet Toulouse in the Heineken Cup Final in Cardiff on May 24th.

Kidney’s long heralded elevation to the top position in Irish rugby was finally confirmed yesterday. The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) stated that it was “delighted to announce that Declan Kidney has been confirmed as the new Head Coach of the Ireland Rugby team”.

His predecessor Eddie O’Sullivan frequently pronounced that “you are only as good as what you negotiate” and while the financial package obviously remains confidential, Kidney’s many admirers will be pleased his contract will see him lead Ireland up to and including the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Furthermore, Kidney won’t be involved in the Ireland-Barbarians game in Gloucester on May 27th, the subsequent tour of New Zealand and Australia or the Churchill Cup. The management teams for those assignments have not yet been named but the current Ireland forwards coach Niall O’Donovan and Connacht boss Michael Bradley are likely to play primary roles.

Speculation is rife as to the likely composition of Kidney’s support team with Ireland. Leinster manager Paul McNaughton is hotly tipped to fill a similar role with the national side although Mick Galwey, who is standing down as the Shannon club coach, has frequently expressed an interest in the post. If only to avoid claims of provincial bias, the Union’s preference is likely to be for McNaughton although Kidney will have the final say.

O’Donovan remains a front runner to remain as forwards coach although the South African Gert Smal, who fulfilled the role so successfully with the Springboks in the World Cup, is also in contention. Munster conditioning coach Paul Derbyshire and defence coach Tony McGahan have recently been lauded by Kidney for their invaluable contributions as the team progressed to another Heineken Cup final.

“There is no greater honour for any coach then to lead his own country,” said Kidney. “I have had that privilege at several levels of the game in Ireland from schools and U19’s as well as working with the senior Ireland team and I am delighted to have this opportunity and to be here at what is the pinnacle of my career.

“I have worked with many exceptional players during my career at both international and provincial level and there is no doubt that we have the talent in Ireland to be successful at the highest level. The challenge going forward for the Ireland team and Irish Rugby as a whole is to continue the growth and success on the field. I am excited about the challenge and looking forward to working with the players.”

Kidney’s appointment will not be welcomed in some quarters of both Leinster and Ulster. He spurned the opportunity of moving north in the early years of the decade and was disparaged in many parts of Dublin 4 for the manner in which he left Leinster towards the end of the 2003/’04 season, with a few players claiming he was negotiating new contracts for them while at the same planning his own departure back to Munster.

Brian O’Driscoll subsequently wrote in his Lions Tour Diary in 2005 that he had learned nothing under the Corkman during his short stint as provincial coach and hinted that his career had actually stalled.

Earlier this week, however, O’Driscoll had a change of heart saying it would be “fantastic” if Kidney were to be appointed as Ireland coach.

As for the Union stance on the appointment, chief executive Philip Browne commented: “The record of Declan Kidney speaks for itself and it was obvious from the very beginning of this process that he was one of the main contenders to lead Ireland to the next Rugby World Cup in 2011.

“His ability to achieve success and develop players in the ever increasing competitive arena of professional rugby is proven and the IRFU is delighted to have made this appointment. While the need to make the appointment as soon as was practicable was important, the IRFU was conscious of keeping any disruption to the preparations of the Munster team to a minimum.”

THE immediate repercussions for Munster’s prospects of a second European triumph should be minimal with Kidney declaring that “my focus for the next three weeks will be totally on the Munster team and the preparation for the Heineken European Cup final.”

In the long term, however, the province faces a major task in finding replacements for not only Kidney but also forwards coach Jim Williams who is returning to his native Australia to take up the position as assistant coach to Robbie Deans. Interviews have already been held with candidates for the forwards position and, no doubt, soundings have also been made with a view to finding a successor for Kidney.

Michael Bradley is an obvious contender for a new job either with Ireland or Munster and Mick Galwey and Anthony Foley, who retires at the end of the season, should also come into the equation.

Given Munster’s official status as Europe’s top team, one would expect top overseas coaches to be interested in the position although the cream may already have been snapped up in what has become an increasingly volatile market.

That being the case, I am one of many who would warmly welcome a return to the province of Alan Gaffney. He has already held the position of head coach from 2002/’03 to 2004/’05 and was extremely popular with players and fans alike. Only a couple of weeks ago, the genial Australian demonstrated that he has lost none of his ability as his current side Saracens ran Munster to two points in the Heineken semi-final at The Ricoh Arena. He is now due to take up a consultative role with Leinster but it is inconceivable that that could stand in his way of returning to Munster.

And don’t be surprised if former national coach Eddie O’Sullivan comes back into the reckoning.


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