O'Sullivan must complete his CV first

15/01/2013

Manus Lappin writes: An interesting tweet by former Ulster and Leinster coach Matt Williams reignited an interest in what has become an old topic, ie why didn’t Eddie O’Sullivan get a look-in at Connacht.

Matt was suitably disgusted, suggesting “people are stopping Irish coaches being employed in Ireland” in another tweet he offered this explanation “simple bigotry”Was it bigotry as Matt suggests, or is there a genuine reason why Eddie was overlooked for the job?

It’s less than ideal for Connacht that much of the process was inadvertently conducted in public. Eddie had his part to play in that too and he would have been best advised to show people he has changed by keeping his mout shut.

Let me qualify this by saying I have a great deal of respect for Eddie O’Sullivan and what he achieved with Ireland. He is far from perfect and his almost dictatorial style of player and game management can be seen as a huge negative in the modern game, however I for one, believe, especially in the early days, Eddie O’Sullivan ‘the dictator’ was exactly what Ireland needed. The game, expectations, and plays have moved on in the intervening years.

Eddie used a particular style of management with the IRFU, what has harmed him is when he brought the players to the level he needed them at, he really should have adapted his management style, but he didn’t. That was a mistake, we all make them and I believe Eddie O’Sullivan has learned a lesson in the most public of arenas. 

It’s difficult to compare O’Sullivan’s reign with Ireland to today’s professional club game. Firstly when you are National coach you have the cream of the crop to choose from. You play a maximum of 10 games a year. Both O’Sullivan and Kidney believe player development is someone else’s job and theirs is to put the best players on the field at all times. Just taking those three points, you begin to see how very different the role is to coaching a Rabo Pro12 team. 

At club level you are swimming in an altogether different pool. One where you are managing games on a weekly basis, managing players daily over a long season with a massive emphasis on developing young players. Not to mention working within the constraints of the IRFU player management programme which often means you are without your best players. 

When you boil it down, Eddie’s CV has a glaring omission, he has zero experience coaching a professional club and the daily grind that goes along with that. His career progressed along a path that groomed him to be Ireland head coach. He coached Connacht pre-professionalism before a successful spell as Ireland U21 coach. He then went to the USA before returning to Ireland as assistant under Warren Gatland who he would later take over from in 2001. If you are looking for a coach with experience of coaching a professional club side, Eddie doesn’t tick that box. 

We can speculate forever and a day about who he pissed off or who may be harbouring personal vendetta against Eddie, but if the same logic that is applied to recruitment in business, is applied to the Connacht gig, then Eddie doesn’t meet the entry criteria.

Pat Lam does meet that criteria with experience coaching Auckland and The Auckland Blues.

What next for Eddie O’Sullivan?

The first thing Eddie needs to do is plug that gap in his CV. He has received a lot of negative publicity since parting company with the IRFU and that may be affecting his opportunities to secure a position.

If he is unable to secure a position as head coach, then he should look for an assistant’s role. Eddie has massive experience and when you look at how Mark McCall, director of rugby at Saracens, has reinvented himself after a fractious run as Ulster head coach, this should serve as inspiration for O’Sullivan. McCall was always a quality coach, he just came to the Ulster job a little inexperienced and was overwhelmed by the daily challenges.

A spell in England has allowed McCall to flourish, for me, Eddie must look at a similar path, there is a big bad world outside of Ireland and the IRFU... explore it Eddie.

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