Not bad for the SON OF A PI­RATE

Five schools ju­nior cups Three schools se­nior cups Schools Triple Crown Un­der 19 World Cup Two Heineken Cups IRB Coach of Year Triple Crown First Grand Slam since 1948

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - SPORTS -

Mun­ster and Ire­land stars would even­tu­ally term them ‘Kid­neyisms’ – the mes­sages that De­clan Kid­ney sent their way the week be­fore ma­jor games. In this ex­tract from the first bi­og­ra­phy of Ire­land’s most suc­cess­ful rugby coach of all time, it is re­vealed how a young De­clan Kid­ney was up to the same psy­cho­log­i­cal tricks as he led Ire­land’s Un­der 19s to World Cup glory in 1998.

THE MAK­ING OF a ‘very weird, strange and won­der­ful man’, as once an­nounced by Ir­ish le­gend and barn­storm­ing hooker Keith Wood, was plain sail­ing in the be­gin­ning. He was the son of a Pi­rate.

Joe Kid­ney was born in Cobh, and worked in the Cork Dock­yard that even­tu­ally be­came known lo­cally as Verolme when it passed in 1957 into the hands of Dutch ship­ping mag­net, Cor­nelius Verolme. Thir­tythree ships were built in the dock­yard and 1,500 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Joe, worked there un­til the ship build­ing in­dus­try went un­der in the early 1980s. A Mun­ster se­nior schools cup win­ner, as his son would also be, Joe was a for­mer cap­tain of Cobh Pi­rates.

His fa­ther, and not some es­teemed team boss or coach in Ire­land or Eng­land, was the great­est in­flu­ence on De­clan Kid­ney’s ca­reer. His fa­ther was also a for­mer winger with Dol­phin, and fa­ther and son, with De­clan lis­ten­ing in­tently to Joe’s anal­y­sis of games, av­er­aged three matches to­gether ev­ery week­end in the rugby sea­son. From seven or eight years of age, De­clan played in his own match on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing, and the pair would watch the se­nior team that af­ter­noon. Sun­day morn­ing they found time to view the thirds match. Sun­day af­ter­noon the sec­onds match.

A lot of games for young eyes to soak up; a lot of words dropped into young ears, and so it was hardly sur­pris­ing that De­clan Kid­ney con­sid­ered him­self fit and ready to coach his first team at 19 years of age. He had lost a Mun­ster se­nior schools fi­nal with Pres Cork by that time, and re­bounded to win one. He was play­ing with UCC. He was play­ing out-half. In his play­ing days at Dol­phin he was con­sid­ered a canny No10 with a good enough boot, but the Mun­ster ju­niors was as high as he scaled the rep­re­sen­ta­tive lad­der. ‘Look­ing back on it now,’ he con­sid­ered in his early days as Mun­ster coach, ‘I was prob­a­bly overly harsh on my­self and over an­a­lyt­i­cal in what I could do. But I loved it.’

His high­lights? He sin­gled out the schools cup fi­nal, and men­tioned, ‘as for the club one? I sup­pose any time I made the team’. He had brains on the field, how­ever. Lots of good thoughts about the game! What was the point in wait­ing to be­come an old man with a whis­tle? None. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege he re­turned to his alma mater to coach. He also re­turned to teach maths and of­fer ca­reer ad­vice to stu­dents. He was pointed in the di­rec­tion of the Un­der 13s. In the 1980s, Pres Cork lifted five ju­nior cups in six years. Three se­nior cups, one af­ter the other, fol­lowed smartly in the 1990s. Kid­ney coached all eight vic­to­ries. He over­saw an Ir­ish Schools Triple Crown in 1993. Brought the Ir­ish Un­der 19s to France in 1998 for a World Cup that had not at­tracted the at­ten­tion of some of game’s su­per­pow­ers. There were no New Zealand, Aus­tralian or English teams in the way. ‘Why can’t we win it lads?’ Kid­ney de­clared. And Ire­land pro­ceeded to de­feat the United States, be­fore sidestep­ping South Africa af­ter fight­ing back from a 17-0 deficit and earn­ing a draw. The South Africans nicked the penalty shootout 4-3, but they still got kicked out for us­ing an in­el­i­gi­ble player.

A decade later, Ir­ish team cap­tain Shane Moore, who part­nered Brian O’Driscoll in the cen­tre, was asked by one jour­nal­ist to ex­plain Kid­ney’s se­cret, and in his ex­pla­na­tion he re­turned to the team dress­ing room be­fore that same game against the South Africans. ‘He was all, “Sure I sup­pose we may as well go home, we prob­a­bly won’t have a hope here,” re­mem­bered Moore. ‘And you’re go­ing, “What do you mean?” It was maybe a re­verse psy­chol­ogy. He’d make you think and talk. Be­cause all of a sud­den you found your­self fo­cus­ing on what you needed to do.’

Moore could not re­call the coach shout­ing, or even rais­ing his voice dur­ing the whole tour­na­ment, even when ev­ery­one trooped back into the dress­ing room at half-time, to con­sider a 17-0 deficit. ‘He was still ab­so­lutely calm and log­i­cal. “Why

not hang onto the ball and see what you can do? Take it to them a lit­tle more, and see what they have.”’ Moore and his young men pro­ceeded to do ex­actly that.

‘I can never re­mem­ber us hav­ing any fear of los­ing in that tour­na­ment,’ the team cap­tain con­tin­ued. ‘The glass was al­ways half full. De­clan al­ways stressed the squad, so much so you felt you were go­ing on the field with 30 peo­ple, not 15.’

In the semi-fi­nal Ar­gentina were taken out 18-3, and in the fi­nal it was a rout against the home na­tion. An im­pec­ca­ble 18-0 score­line. There was shock and wild cel­e­bra­tion in clinch­ing a World Cup, but in his mem­oir, The Test, Brian O’Driscoll spent time re­call­ing some­thing that hap­pened dis­tant from any of those games.

O’Driscoll ex­plained that Kid­ney was pumped up for the team’s first match against the United States and, at an early train­ing ses­sion, he pulled the fu­ture Ir­ish le­gend to one side

I can never re­mem­ber us hav­ing any fear of los­ing in that tour­na­ment... De­clan al­ways stressed the squad, you felt you were go­ing on the field with 30 peo­ple, not 15

and told him to stop spit­ting in the team hud­dle as he (Kid­ney) was talk­ing. O’Driscoll was not even aware that he was spit­ting. ‘De­clan gets pumped up for our first match, against the US,’ wrote O’Driscoll. ‘Please don’t spit into the mid­dle of it,’ O’Driscoll was told. O’Driscoll apol­o­gised. Kid­ney told him that if he had to spit… spit out, not in! In his next 16 years in an Ir­ish jersey, or Li­ons jersey, or any jersey for that mat­ter, the most dec­o­rated player in this coun­try’s his­tory never again spat in a team hud­dle. He also had a good long look at any­one who did. It was O’Driscoll’s first in­sight into a man he would be work­ing with and against over the next two decades. He wit­nessed how De­clan Kid­ney liked to grasp at things, real or imag­i­nary, a pos­si­ble slight, an er­rant in­sult, in or­der to give his team even the most min­i­mal of psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­van­tages. For in­stance, the day be­fore the fi­nal in Les Sept De­niers in Toulouse, he asked the Ir­ish lads to take a closer look at their trans­port.

‘Have you no­ticed how the qual­ity of our team bus is get­ting worse and worse?’ he asked them.

Kid­ney sug­gested that the Ir­ish team was be­ing treated as sec­ond best. Tourists, slum­dogs even, packed into a bus that had seen bet­ter days. ‘The three things that I try to do as a coach are to en­joy my­self, to help play­ers I am work­ing with to im­prove, and to win. But not nec­es­sar­ily in that or­der.’ (De­cem­ber 18, 1999) ‘One of the things I’m glad I did this year was get one of those spe­cial trains up and down to Dublin for one of the in­ter­na­tional matches. It gave me a feel for what the Ir­ish rugby sup­port­ers are about, which might sound like a small fella from Cork mak­ing a grandiose state­ment. But I think it re­in­forced what Ir­ish rugby sup­port­ers are look­ing for in their teams. They want them to be hon­est and be com­pet­i­tive. Ul­ster did that last year and if Ul­ster hadn’t won the Euro­pean Cup I still think most of their sup­port­ers would have been happy with the way they played. They gave ev­ery­thing that their sup­port­ers wanted, and then it be­came a bit of an avalanche when they ac­tu­ally reached the fi­nal and won it. And that’s what we’re try­ing to do. I don’t ex­pect us to win. I don’t ex­pect us to lose either. But once we give it our best shot, then it will take a good team to beat us, and if we are beaten we have at least made sure that it is a very good team that beats us.’ (De­cem­ber 18, 1999) ‘I am not that im­por­tant at all, or a coach isn’t that im­por­tant at all. You can just fa­cil­i­tate what they want to do. If they want to do it? Ninety-nine per cent of the work comes from them­selves. The coach doesn’t win the matches. Some­body once asked me what my am­bi­tion is in coach­ing and I sup­pose my am­bi­tion is to be lucky enough to work

with play­ers who have am­bi­tion.’ (May 6, 2000) ‘I think that’s a word (un­der­achieved) that has been bandied about al­right but who is any­body to say what any­body else does with their lives? Some­times in this coun­try we give teams dif­fer­ent tags, [but] I haven’t seen any play­ers not try their best. And once ev­ery player tries their best that’s all you can ask of them.’ (Au­gust 4, 2004) ‘You don’t want a fella liv­ing in fear that if he goes out on the pitch and makes one mis­take that the other guy is in. It’s not fair on him to do that. We’re all dif­fer­ent, with our up­side and down­sides. It’s about learn­ing to re­spect peo­ple and what they bring. We’re deal­ing with hu­man be­ings, so there’s no ex­act sci­ence to it. But there aren’t many walks of life where ev­ery­body gives ev­ery­thing they have to what they’re do­ing, and when you’re coach­ing in sport, you’re priv­i­leged to see peo­ple do­ing that. And if the play­ers are giv­ing ev­ery­thing, you have to give them a lit­tle bit in re­turn.’ (Fe­bru­ary 5, 2010) ‘I know what I can bring to it. I know what I brought to it over the years, I know that I’ve been in holes be­fore like this and I know how to get out of them, but I think now is the time to sit back and re­flect and let’s take a look at things. In terms of doom and gloom, and there’ll be a lot of that, in a strange way over the com­ing year we’ll ben­e­fit from what we’ve gone through here (Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship 2013) with the fel­las com­ing through, and that’s what we must re­mem­ber.’ (March 18, 2013) If you want to make God laugh, tell him what you’re do­ing to­mor­row. (Many days, many years)

The wise words from ‘The Mas­ter’ of Ir­ish rugby down through the years

GOB: De­clan Kid­ney sorted out Brian O’Driscoll’s prob­lem with spit­ting

The Mas­ter: A Bi­og­ra­phy of De­clan Kid­ney’ is pub­lished by Hero Books and is avail­able in all good book shops, price €20

GLORY DAYS: Main photo, De­clan Kid­ney; from top, Paddy Wal­lace, Don­n­cha O’Callaghan, Kid­ney and Brian O’Driscoll cel­e­brate the Slam; work­ing a drill with Johne Mur­phy

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