Of course the new Ireland coach would have hoped for more, and for a long time against the Pumas at Croke Park last Saturday, his team was close to the edge, but he is now temporarily able to retreat from the limelight knowing that he’ll have a favorable seeding when the draw for the 2011 World Cup is made next week.
Although the bald facts add up to more than the sum of his team’s parts over the last three games, Kidney still managed to pick off a hugely important result (17-3) against a country ranked four places higher in the world than his own. An albeit stuttering victory over Argentina has given him and his management set-up some valuable breathing space.
The coach has unveiled Keith Earls, added an extra back-row option in the massively promising, Stephen Ferris, and put his faith in the emerging talents of Luke Fitzgerald and Tomas O’Leary. However, there hasn’t been much evidence, at this stage anyway, that he has brought about a discernable change to Team Ireland.
There are problems behind the scrum where Tommy Bowe appears short of the all-round talent needed to make an impact at international level. More importantly, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara – the brains of the side – have been nowhere near their best in the past week.
One try in the two matches that really counted is also a poor return, and notwithstanding the occasional threat from Fitzgerald, Ireland found it extremely tough going against the All Blacks, as well as against the defensive organization of Argentina who were missing their two best players in Juan Martin Hernandez and Felipe Contepomi.
If O’Driscoll remains impressively physical, and if he possesses the legerdemain other players can only dream of, he has shown no cutting edge in two successive Saturdays. Perhaps, the captaincy is weighing him down, and his form could well improve if say, Paul O’Connell, took on the job.
Meanwhile, O’Gara’s solo run regarding the need for the players to have more pride in the Ireland jersey was well-intentioned, but it also raised issues that are probably best parked during an international series.
On the back of Munster’s heroic 18-16 defeat by the All Blacks at Thomond Park, O’Gara effectively urged the Ireland players to perform in the image of Munster. If he was mostly engaged in self-motivation, a call to Munster arms was never going to sit especially well with his Leinster colleagues.
While his honesty might have been refreshing, there was also the perception that O’Gara took some of the high ground away from Kidney and from O’Driscoll. Suddenly, it was as if he was the mouthpiece for the team, and not the coach or the captain.
In the end, Ireland ground out a win over the Pumas that was as vital as it was unconvincing. For long periods, their efforts to prise open an impressively secure defense were pretty ponderous. And for long periods, you got this highly uncomfortable feeling that we were in for a depressing reprise of the last World Cup when Argentina triumphed much too easily.
If Ireland were nothing else, they were persistent, as the Pumas’ claws retracted just a touch in the final quarter, O’Gara made sure of the result with a penalty, a fine dropped goal and the assist for Bowe’s try.
With the stakes so high, it was a case of winning ugly, and the intermittent silences among the attendance of just under 70,000 were a reminder of how ugly it was at times.
Contepomi was missed as much for his class as the promise of another chapter in his long-running spat with one or two of Ireland’s Munster contingent, but then the announcement just before kick-off that the brilliant Hernandez had failed a fitness test appeared to be an incalculable blow to the visitors.
It was 3-3 at the interval, and frankly, much too close for comfort. An unnerving feeling persisted for much of the second half, although the Irish were more dynamic and positive in the final quarter. In truth, it wasn’t hard to improve on much of what had gone before.
With exceptional broken-field runners such as Geordan Murphy, Rob Kearney, O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald on hand, surely we were entitled to expect at least one or two line-breaks, but instead, Ireland’s anticipated edge behind the scrum was woefully blunt.
“It surprised me. The players should be full of confidence, but they’re not,” said Kidney. “I know it didn’t get the blood flowing, but look, 17-3 isn’t too bad.”
The margin was still just the three points as Argentina at last came under sustained pressure, and O’Gara’s accuracy gave Ireland some breathing space before his clever cross-kick was perfectly weighted for Bowe to seal the victory.
The crowd streamed away into the Dublin evening, relieved but underwhelmed.
bedtime beer row
FOLLOWING intense speculation in the Irish media that Giovanni Trapattoni had left Andy Reid out of his recent Ireland soccer line-ups because of an altercation between the two, the veteran Italian coach confirmed that a row had in fact taken place in the team hotel following the World Cup qualifying game against Georgia in September.
Apparently, Trapattoni had become annoyed when as many as 10 players, Reid included, refused to finish their drinks and a sing-song by 1.00 a.m. “I let the team drink beer. They had a free night. I said, ‘Okay, one o’clock, you go to bed.’ It comes to 1.30, and I said, ‘Okay, it’s time to go to bed.’ We had a game in three days time, the table was like a pub with all the beer on it,” he revealed.
“If he [Reid] was my son, I would go boom,” Trapattoni added, mimicking giving someone a kick in the backside.
However, the Ireland manager also insisted that that row was not behind Reid’s current exclusion from international team and that he had been reluctant to speak about the incident.
“I am not happy, because I didn’t want to this to go into the newspapers. I have been managing teams for 30 years and the situation in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. And I have never put myself, my ego over a player. If a player has to play, he will play for the good of the team. It’s nothing personal. It’s about the team and the order in the team. It’s about the team first. If the player fits the team, and my plans, then he will play.”
Trapattoni was speaking in the aftermath of his first defeat in charge of Ireland who were defeated 3-2 by Poland in last week’s friendly at Croke Park. Without the injured Robbie Keane, the Irish trailed 2-0 early in the second half, but a penalty by Stephen Hunt sparked hopes of a late revival.
Instead, Robert Lewandowski made the game safe for the Poles with a super shot into the top corner before Keith Andrews added a touch of drama to the proceedings with a second Irish goal on his international debut.
gets Dub nod
In a surprise move, the former Clare All Ireland-winning captain and manager, Anthony Daly, has been appointed as the new Dublin hurling manager.
The Dublin County Board had been engaged in a protracted search for a replacement for Tommy Naughton with Nicky English and DJ Carey understood to be among the targets, however, Daly’s arrival will be a major boost for hurling in the capital.
Although he won no silverware as coach of Clare, he guided his native county to two All Ireland semi-finals. Meanwhile, John McIntyre was confirmed as Galway’s new manager following Ger Loughnane’s exit.
On the club front, Corofin of Galway took the Connacht football title with a surprisingly comfortable 0-11 to 0-6 win over Eastern Harps of Sligo at Pearse Stadium last Sunday.
Backed by a strong breeze, Corofin were five points clear at the interval and they maintained that lead throughout the second half to secure a first provincial title in 11 years.
Cora Staunton kicked a superb personal tally of 11 points as Mayo champions Carnacon defeated Inch Rovers of Cork by 2-11 to 2-6 in Tullamore to win the a second successive All Ireland ladies club football title.