IRFU Right to Offer Kidney New Contract?

by Tom Fox

After the shambles that was the 2007 World Cup for Ireland, the inevitable backlash ensued. The masses wanted Eddie O’Sullivan’s head on a stick. It was supposedly the best prepared and most talented Irish team of all time and they had a genuine chance of, whisper it, winning the tournament or at least making a sizeable wave.

They didn’t. As it turned out, they didn’t even register a splash. No real match practice and a severe loss in confidence and form all contributed to an embarrassing showing by O’Sullivan’s team, who struggled to beat minnows Georgia and Namibia.

But the public didn’t get the head on a stick they so craved. Why? In a show of faith, the IRFU had awarded Eddie O’Sullivan a four year extension to his contract prior to the World Cup, meaning it would be an expensive exercise to sack him. So they didn’t. The Facebook group ‘If we all chip in a euro, we can buy out Eddie O’Sullivan’s contract’ depicted the tone of the public nicely.

Eventually the pressure told on O’Sullivan, who ultimately walked the plank himself. The IRFU were widely criticised for awarding the contract to O’Sullivan prior to the tournament and digging themselves into a hole.

That is why I was extremely surprised when an email came into my inbox from the IRFU press office on Friday afternoon, informing that Declan Kidney had been awarded a new two year contract that would take him and his coaching team to 2013 at the helm of the national side.

A statement from the IRFU said:

“We felt it was important to give the team continuity over the next four months and importantly after the end of the World Cup tournament in New Zealand.  Apart from securing the Grand Slam in 2009, the team has made significant progress over the last two years in terms of results and the development of players in international competition. This is not only due to the ability of the players, but the standard of coaching they have received.”

“The contract extension to the coaching staff allows everybody to plan ahead following the World Cup with a greater degree of certainty and to allow the team to continue to develop.”

Let us first examine the rationale behind the IRFU’s decision. Kidney has done a fine job since taking over as Irish coach and they believe he is the man for the job moving forward. A show of faith before the World Cup leaves everyone going into the tournament with a sense of unity and all ambiguity removed.

Similarly, who is there to replace Kidney if things did go awry in the World Cup? Conor O’Shea is the only obvious candidate and looks like the next in line but it is still a bit early for him surely. Why not just move for Kidney now if there is no one to replace him?

It is also only a two year contract extension the coaching staff have been awarded, which means it would be less expensive to relive them if required.

On the other hand; why bother? Have the IRFU not learned their lesson from four years ago or were they not scorned enough from that misjudgement? Why not just sit tight until after the World Cup and make a call then? What is the rush?

I don’t think Declan Kidney is the type of person to walk out on Ireland prior to the World Cup if he wasn’t awarded a contract extension. He isn’t going anywhere so why the urge to tie him down now?  IF Ireland perform well in New Zealand, reward him then, not before the showpiece event. As someone said the other day, it is akin to giving a Bank CEO a deal on the eve of a stress test.

I am aware that my judgement may be swayed by the nightmare experience of the last World Cup but I’m not presuming Ireland will have a poor World Cup, not by any stretch. I actually think this team is capable of going far in the tournament.

It is broadly irrelevant though whether or not we think Ireland may or may not have a successful World Cup. The point is that it is the wrong decision now, at this moment in time.

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