As Ireland begin their preparation for the Rugby World Cup 2011, head coach Declan Kidney speaks to Quinton O’Reilly about World Cup plans and his philosophical approach to coaching
If you were unfamiliar with the Irish rugby team, you’d be forgiven for not noticing Declan Kidney wandering through UCD last week. Composed, articulate and well mannered, his quiet presence means that he could easily go unnoticed, yet that doesn’t stop him from commanding the upmost respect of Irish players and fans.
Not many people can boast the same CV as Kidney, having obtained success as a coach both at underage and provincial level. In addition to his time with Ireland under-19s, who won the World Championship in 1998, the highlight of his provincial career was winning the Heineken Cup twice in 2005 and 2008 during his second stint managing the club (he first managed Munster from 98–02, but left to become Ireland’s assistant coach).
However, his most impressive achievement by far was winning Ireland’s second Grand Slam in 2009. Stephen Jones’ penalty falling short cemented their place in the hearts and minds of an entire nation. Yet there is barely a hint of self-praise when Kidney speaks. Instead, he is a man who knows that you’re only as good as your last game and doesn’t allow himself to be embroiled in any hype surrounding the Irish team.
This was epitomised during his post-match interview after the last month’s Six Nations game against Wales, when Ireland lost 19-13 due to a controversial Mike Phillips’ try. Instead of complaining or venting his frustration over the decision, he instead reflected on the fact that complaining about a rugby match was inappropriate when the tragedy that hit Japan was unfolding at the same time.
“Our job is to prepare for the next game. It’s as simple and brutal as that,” he said at the time, a blunt answer, but one that reflects his philosophical approach. He clearly understands that life goes on and that some matches will go your way and others, such as the aforementioned Wales game, won’t.
Despite not having the most successful campaign this year, Kidney spoke of his pride when asked about the team. “I was delighted with the performance. The way everybody fell into the team ethic, I was pleased with,” he says, before adding: “We just need to bring a bit more consistency [to our game].”
While he values the contribution of each player, Kidney doesn’t single out anyone when asked about his thoughts on the Six Nations campaign, his philosophy instead reflects on the performance and endeavours of his team and how they can improve.
Moreover, on the matter of the upcoming World Cup campaign, he says: “The World Cup has always been difficult. So I think the first thing to do, like in the Heineken Cup, is to concentrate on getting out of our pool.” While Ireland face tough opposition in the form of Australia and Italy, he’s reluctant to see their matches against Russia or America as easy games, approaching every game one step at a time.
Kidney has come a long way since he coached Presentation Brothers College, Cork back in the late 90s. Speaking to LawSoc Auditor, Kieran McCarthy, he mentions his time coaching the school under-13 team when he started out and how it taught him an important lesson about coaching and training.
“You learn that the kid that is coming in last may be putting in as much effort as the kid who comes in first,” explains Kidney. “Some aspects come easier to others in life. You can learn that trick of who’s putting in the best effort. Obviously [talented] people will rise to the top, but you should never knock honest endeavour.”
It is a mantra that he has carried with him to international level. From listening to him, you get the impression that Kidney doesn’t only see a team as one massive unit, but the sum of its parts being as important as its total. While there are obvious similarities between coaching club and country, he admits that he misses the day-to-day running of a club.
“I think the biggest difference is that you can make concessions quite easier at provincial level,” says Kidney. “You have day-by-day contact with the players and then sometimes you lose them, you lose your senior players to international duty, but that gives you an opportunity to work with other people there and to give them their opportunities.
“Without a doubt, I enjoy day-to-day contact, but given the privilege that I have [coaching the Irish team], it’s a small price to pay.”
Kidney comes across a man who, while aware of the responsibility that falls with such a position, is enjoying every day as it comes. Walking alongside him, Kidney always stops to quickly chat to fans or give his signature when approached, a true gentleman who doesn’t take for granted the position he reached.
When I ask him what his most cherished or favourite memory of his career was, he simply smiles and says: “Every day, I’m in an Irish dressing room.” A philosophical response that shows how when Ireland begin their World Cup campaign against USA later this year, they’ll have a calming and confident presence to guide them through the tournament.
Declan Kidney received the Honorary life membership from LawSoc on March 29th.