There are times, in writing, when opinions on certain matters have to be curtailed a bit. Mostly for fear of alienating somebody. Particularly when working in the local media where rattled cages are more likely to fall down on top of you rather than close up again. That said, if opinions are bubbling under the surface for long enough, eventually they will come to the boil and need expression.
In that context, it’d be hoped that the local GAA fraternity would understand what’s meant when I say that sometimes the outfit close to home not being in a desired location can be upsettingly frustrating. Dreaming is at fault you see.
Watching top club teams like Crossmaglen Rangers and Dr Crokes – to name but two – constantly rake up county titles and perennially contending for the All Ireland is upsetting in a way. For the one question constantly reverberating in the head is ‘Why can’t we be like them?’ Maybe it amounts to chasing the impossible dream, but, if you can’t dream, what’s the point in starting out?
To move spheres, most of the others on the club rugby scene in Europe cannot but have been at least a tad jealous of Leinster for a good chunk of the past decade. While they mightn’t admit it, they must have been at least envious of Munster – if only for a short while. When someone else is in the ascendency, you wish it was you.
Then, the rest of rugby had to look skyward to locate Leinster themselves. From the time they discovered the winning habit, what they’ve achieved has been phenomenal. They’re still the team to beat in the Heineken Cup in my view. Yet, the reality that they are most likely destined for a transitional period won’t fade.
Chief architects of the Leinster revolution are either winding their engines down or recalibrating them to work in pastures blue, white and red. Some of the departing will leave voids that’ll take considerable filling. To their credit, though, they have begun to infuse new personnel into the setup in recent times.
Players like Jack McGrath, Dave Kearney and Rhys Ruddock are now becoming established and while even more tinkering may be required should Jamie Heaslip or – more importantly – Sean O’Brien depart, there appears to be a good line of talent coming through. It may not diminish the losses caused by the departed completely but it’d be a start.
Perhaps the most significant move of all the province has made of late has been the installation of Leo Cullen as forwards coach. Continuity is absolutely crucial in a transitional period and nobody has embodied what Leinster have been about during their bountiful years more than Cullen. Six trophies in six seasons must make him the most successful captain Irish rugby has ever seen. Him making it seven in seven wouldn’t be bet against either!
His appointment in a coaching role is significant on another level also. One applicable to all sports. In some codes, at least, far too few players appear willing to give something back to a situation from which they have derived so much. Granted, coaching courses and structures in rugby are at a very high level and most likely very well funded, but, the fact is that in some places the interest therein doesn’t be what it should.
It’s no coincidence, mind you, that where former players do ‘train on’, so to speak, the effects speak for themselves. Again, here, we return to Crossmaglen as the most shining example. Joe Kernan was the man that guided the great Armagh outfit to their initial breakthrough. Others, including Donal Murtagh, the McEntee twins and – latterly – Oisin McConville have come in and assumed that mantle.
Another generation of young players will have been inspired by those men and the same surely applies to Leo Cullen et al. There’s another point worth making too – from the inception of professional rugby, the trend has been to bring in coaches from the southern hemisphere.
Right, so Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt brought great success to Leinster, but, the achievements of Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney and Eric Elwood stand comparison with the best when taken in perspective. It must also be significant that Anthony Foley has been coaching the Munster forwards in recent times – even if the status of the arrangement currently looks uncertain.
Maybe most noteworthy is the fact that the player wanted to go that road. His employers, in fairness, deserve credit for realising the asset they had on their hands and ensuring he remains at their disposal when he steps outside the line. Yes, it could be seen as something of a gamble, but, it’s hard to see it being anything other than a success.
Now that Leo has taken the initial steps in his coaching career, surely a head coach position will be the next natural progression. When the time does arrive, Leinster should do everything possible to ensure it’s with them.