Another meeting rolls on to the agenda

MONDAY night, and another meeting of the Cork County Board. How many is that now?

It’s as if official gatherings seem to sprout wherever one or two gather in the name of transfer applications and fixture congestion.

It’s a commonplace to pay tribute to tenacity and determination in all forms of life by saying that a nuclear holocaust would not extinguish those same elements of God’s creation.

Clearly, however, the innate desire of Leeside GAA administrators to come together is so strong that the detonation of any amount of fission-based ordnance would not stop a quorum being formed.

Radioactivity be damned; if there’s an agenda, we’ll be there.

Anyway, last night. The meeting centred on proposals regarding the composition of the committee which will appoint the county’s next long-term senior hurling manager.

That’s exactly as much background as we’re minded to give. Take it or leave it.

Those proposals were dealt with at some length at last Thursday night’s meeting, but the executive proposal was one of the early favourites in the running.

In the event it was hardly a contest and no-one was surprised when that motion romped home, gathering 72 votes out of the 113 cast.

It means that under the initiative proposed by Central Council earlier in the dispute, three independent people will be appointed by Central Council to consider and recommend a manager to the county committee for a two-year term.

The three nominees are to be “Cork GAA people” — no member of the County Committee or current player will act on the committee.

However, questions remain regarding the original document which gave rise to the proposal.

That was proposed by Christy Cooney and Pauric Duffy in an effort to resolve the dispute some weeks ago, and it didn’t confine itself to the issue of the manager.

For instance, if the executive of the Cork County Board is content to assign Central Council the power to appoint the men who will appoint the Cork senior hurling manager, what about the other proposals in the CooneyDuffy document, which would effectively remove power from the executive? Will those be implemented?

After all, precedent has been established in last night’s decision for bringing in some of those wide-ranging recommendations, which covered issues from fixture planning through to facilities maintenance.

Furthermore, exactly how Central Council will actually appoint those three persons is another issue, and last night’s meeting did not tease out the methodology which Croke Park will use to select three Cork GAA people.

Cork already have a short-term senior hurling manager, John Considine, who was appointed on an interim basis pretty snappily last Thursday night.

Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists everywhere – but specifically those triangulated between Adrigole, Newtownshandrum and Youghal, let’s say – Considine threw a spanner in the works when he indicated
yesterday that he wouldn’t be going forward for the job on a permanent basis.

Throw the duster across the blackboard, then, and we can chalk up the usual suspects.

However, if we could divest ourselves for a second of the robes of impartiality and express an opinion, we feel it’s a great pity that proposal number 4 wasn’t adopted, an
Imokilly suggestion that the incoming manager be appointed by a committee drawn from the Cork hurling winning captains of the last 25 years.

The proposal only garnered five votes, which was unfortunate. Given the week that’s in it, it’s only right to point out that one of those captains is Ireland scrum-half Tomás O’Leary, who captained the All-Ireland winning minor side of 2001.

It would have been some fun to make a call to the Ireland team hotel this week to ask Tomás if he could take some time out from the attempt on the Grand Slam and puzzle out a long-term manager for the Cork senior hurlers.

We heard last week about Cork democracy, but that would have been some blow for Cork ecumenism.

A CHAT with Jamie Heaslip is
rewarding for all sorts of reasons, not all of them directly related to the next game, or even the last one.

You learn swiftly who the best table tennis player in the Irish rugby squad is (“we had to peel Luke Fitzgerald off the table the day of the Italy game, he was on it for about two hours”) and that Mick O’Driscoll and Malcolm O’Kelly are not men to face if you don’t have faith in the three of a kind you’re holding.

There’s mock-exasperation with last Sunday’s full-back (“Rob was worried he’d have a bruise on his face for the night out”) and an honest appraisal of how it feels to be stuck in a Roman ruck: “Castro(giovanni) and Parisse coming at you, you’re thinking ‘oh Jaysus, here we go’”.

Even when talk switches to the minutiae of last Sunday’s win over Italy, he can’t help being honest. Take this evaluation of his near-try: “I was close, I thought I was going to get over but your man got under me. He did really well, in fairness, though I don’t think Rog was too happy with me for not offloading.”

Heaslip pays warm tribute to his
forward colleagues, even if his maths aren’t flawless: “I couldn’t say enough about the front five, especially John (Hayes) — he made my life so easy at the back (of the scrum), to attack, it was a joke. At 50 years old, to be still pulling those games out of the hat … you can’t say enough about the man.

“All those guys are getting through an unbelievable amount of work — rucks, tackles, stuff that’s not as glamorous, but it loosens the back row to do our thing, that frees the backs to do their thing — it’s a knock-on effect and the game always starts with how well the front five do.”

Two years ago Heaslip missed the historic win over England in Croke Park. He didn’t go to Jones Road that day but hopes he’ll need his boots on Saturday week.

“My first worry is Deccie picking me, because you don’t know what you’re going to get with Deccie! I missed out two years ago. I don’t tend to go to games if I’m not playing, apart from Leinster, but I watched it (on TV), and it was amazing. I’d like to be part of that this time round.”

And there’s always last year’s defeat in Twickenham to avenge.

“It wasn’t nice last year, it never is, losing — particularly to England. A lot of people have written them off, which is unfair. Wales took one chance which turned the game, and that was from turnover ball — anything can happen with a turnover but Wales punished them.

“England were still in it with 10 or 15 minutes to go, and I think we’ll have our work cut out for us. We’ll have our video sessions this week so I’ll be more learned when it comes to England then.”

New Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal also gets the thumbs up. “He’s intense, very, very detailed. He does unbelievable work on lineouts — as does Paulie (O’Connell) — and you can see that work in how we defend lineouts, that’s going pretty well.

“He does good continuity and rucking drills, and they’re paying off with the offloading and reasonably quick ruck ball. And scrums … he loves his scrums and his front five.

“Off the pitch the banter is good, though he doesn’t take too well to talk about the punch he knocked the Kiwi out with. He wants a bit of pushing from me (in scrums), so I try to give it to him.”

Heaslip admits They’ll need to have their homework done for England.

“Their backs are very attack-oriented, and with England you always have a pack that’s mobile, big and strong. That’s just the way they are — they have quality to pick from, and they’ll be tough no matter what.

“They were unlucky against Wales, and people gave out about how they won against Italy, but they took their chances when they came. (It) is going to be another war of attrition. They carry hard and hit hard, but the way to counteract that is to do the same thing back for the full 80.”

People are enjoying the team’s success at a time when there’s plenty of bad news, something Heaslip acknowledges.

“Deccie’s talked about it, people are focused on it to take their minds off things. It happened in the past, looking at Ireland at the soccer World Cups, that took the focus off things at the time. If people want to do that, do it.

“I don’t think it puts any added pressure on us. We’re still going to approach the game the same way, but I suppose it could be something to give people to smile about a little more.

“I don’t know if that works for Leinster, because you guys give it to us anyway, but with Ireland, if it brings a little joy to someone’s life then it’s not going to do any harm, any is it?”

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: “I’m not always calm. You can ask some of the lads about that. I’ve let my emotions run away with me. But that’s not doing anyone any good.”

DECLAN KIDNEY isn’t long setting out his stall. Over a cup of tea in a Cork hotel, he stresses what’s important when it comes to coaching: “It’s all about the team and the players. They’re the ones doing all the work.”

Still, people are curious about the new Ireland coach. The man who made his name steering Munster to glory in Europe now holds the top job in Irish rugby, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost the run of
himself. He still prepares properly: take the games he attends as a spectator.

“Before the November series, myself and Les (Kiss) were at games, preparing notes as to what we might say if we were going
into dressing-rooms at half-time — so you’re still used to it. You don’t want to be experimenting.

“But at half-time there’s no point in trying to flood fellas with information. They’ve broken their melt in the first half, so how much information can they take in? It needs to be fairly precise, and sometimes it’s as simple as ‘keep at what you’re doing’.”

Kidney can isolate a couple of crucial events which were vital in terms of the experience he gained as a coach.

“The two games I remember are Munster against Castres, the year after we’d been to the final in Twickenham. We were something like 21-3 down at half-time. We’d made two mistakes and they’d scored two tries, and it was a matter of recognising that.

“On the law of averages the opposition would make two mistakes and we had to capitalise on that, and the ploy was to stay with it.

“To me that was a huge match. In the Twickenham season we got on a roll but the following season we could have
capitulated, and we didn’t.

“Then you had the Clermont game last season. They were flying, but we had turned the ball over so much in the first 20 minutes, and in the 10 minutes before half-time, when we did hang onto the ball, we made huge inroads.

“So our feeling was, ‘well, we can’t do anything about the first 20 minutes, but let’s hang onto the ball and see how much we can claw back’. And the players did that.”

Kidney’s bow at the end of last year’s Heineken Cup final wasn’t the dramatic farewell it appeared to be (“My family was in a certain section, I saw them, it was a bit of a family slag”), but there’s been plenty of emotion along the way. He had some practice when it came to leaving Munster behind.

“I’d a bit of experience of that. In 2002 myself and Niallo (Donovan) knew it was our last game, we were going to be
involved with Ireland. It sounds cold, but you have to remove yourself from that.

“The fact that it (the 2008 Heineken Cup final) was my last game . . . it was about an hour later in the dressing-room that that creeped in. I’d kept it away
before that.

“That might sound cold. I’d hate to say it’s a skill. It’s a necessity. You have to do it. It’s a facet of life – how do paramedics keep their cool at accidents, for instance? Because there’s a job to be done. In my case I’ve to keep an eye on the game, see if substitutions need to be made and talk at half-time.

“I’m not always calm. You can ask some of the lads about that. I’ve let my emotions run away with me. But that’s not doing anyone any good.”

What does players good is balance, a key word in the Kidney lexicon.

He expands on the advantages Irish players can exploit.

“You can give people too much information, so it’s a case of getting the balance right so they’re organised, but not so organised they’re thinking ‘what should I do next’ rather than playing what’s in front of them.

“As an Irish team we play best when we’re doing that. Genetically we’re not as big as some sides we play, though we work hard in the gym.

“But then a lot of our fellas come from a GAA background which gives them a vision other countries’ players don’t have, and I’d hate to take that away from them; you can coach that out of them.

“Niall Ronan’s try against Clermont, which was a hugely important score, that was a Gaelic try. He used all his
footballing instincts for it.

“A lot of Irish players have played
soccer, Gaelic football, hurling, and I want to encourage them to let those skills come out — as well as lads who have played nothing but rugby. If we’re not as big genetically then we must use other skills.

“You’ve to marry the old — our
madness, which did us alright for 100 years — and better organisation, without ruling out the madness. And also having the bit of crack. Irish teams are better when they’re having a bit of crack.”

The perfect example of mixing skills is Denis Leamy, who frequently takes kick-offs as though he were playing in Semple Stadium rather than Lansdowne Road.

“You’d encourage him to say his percentage of dropping the ball falls if he turns sideways as it could go backwards,” says Kidney. “Then again, the one or two he takes over his head, the momentum that gives the team . . . there was an
incident in that Clermont game when he just got the ball and ran, and that brought us into the game.

“The advantage of that is that it’s
spontaneous. Nowadays, with analysis, everything is pre-planned, so something like that can help. There’s an advantage in soccer in that you don’t announce your team until an hour before kick-off. If you had that in rugby you’d open the game up a bit.”

Announcing or picking your team is probably the biggest choice that a coach faces, of course. Kidney is clear-eyed on the calls he has to make.

“You make the best choices, what you feel is the best. If you feel you’ll get it right all the time you’re not dealing with reality. Nobody makes the right decision all the time.

“I was asked to do the job based on
decisions I’ve made before and I’ll continue to make the best decisions I can, in the hope that’ll ensure the players play to the best of their ability. That’s the coach’s role. If you can do that you’re successful.”

It must be frustrating, though, when a decision doesn’t come off and the critics don’t have all the information that the coach had when he made the decision.

“Any time you have a job that you like — that it’s a privilege to do — there’ll still be another side to the job. That’s true of everybody’s job.

“A lot of it is okay, you’d think ‘on the basis of what they see that’s a fair opinion, but there’s more to it than that’. It’s when it’s over the top, somebody taking a view on the basis they know everything . . . but that’s life.”

“Criticism is part and parcel of it. The question is where does it cross respect.”

The games back in November attracted some criticism. He accepts the win over Argentina wasn’t entertaining but rejects the notion that encounter was the be-all and end-all of the autumn series.

“I thought they were all big games. Just being Irish, the anthem’s being played . . . I wouldn’t underestimate that. It’s a big thing. We were so disappointed with the previous week (against New Zealand), when we got to the Argentina game we wanted to do better, but some teams are very difficult to play against.

“You have to play a certain way to get a result, because if you go all flowery you can get beaten. I know that was an awful game as such, but to the real rugby person who knows what has to be done, it wasn’t so bad. The forwards fronted up to the
Argentina pack and the backs played it where the forwards needed it to be played.

“We won it with the score we won it by, and we were only semi-pleased. We won it knowing we could play better, so you’re
into ‘potential’. You judge potential by the scores on the board, and that’s what we’ll be judged on.

“There was a sense of relief but relief would mean we weren’t looking forward to it, going into it. We wanted to win because we knew it could have been important with the luck of the draw, but some of the older lads were also saying they wanted to win one of these games against a team ranked above us.”

SINCE then the players have scattered back to provinces and clubs. He’s looking forward to seeing them again, particularly as there’s a week to prepare before the first outing.

“They’ve played four Heineken Cup games to qualify. We’re lucky, they’ve all done well — Ulster have come on a ton, Connacht are doing well, and then you’ve Munster and Leinster — so they’ve played a lot of rugby.

“It’s different to soccer, it’s physical
contact, so we’ll add on to what we’ve done. But it’s helpful to meet up the week you don’t actually have a game, because it gives you time to stand back and look at what’s happening, to air views and so on.”

That doesn’t mean you’re divorced from the emotion, of course. The coach readily admits that the occasion had an impact in his first outing as boss.

“The one in Thomond Park, I had to tell myself to cop myself on. The one against Canada caught me — I was
looking around to see if there were any cameras on me, but I managed to get back in. … but you have to stay

True to form, the coach brings the conversation back once more to his
players. “It’s a strange word,
professionalism, isn’t it? … We have some lads involved with teams in Ireland who aren’t paid, but they’re brilliant.

“The players’ thirst for knowledge, to improve, borders on the obsessive… The players are always looking for the edge — tactically, technically, every way.”

No better man to help them do just that.

Twenty questions (and one for luck)

1. What gives between the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council? Remember that this summer?

2. If Darren Sutherland is the Dazzler, is Kenny Egan the Kezzler? Would Paddy Barnes be the Paddler? Would Roy Keane be the Rozzler? (Stop that now — Ed)

3. Having spent an hour in the man’s company during the week,
is Pádraig Harrington the nicest human being in Irish sport?

4. Then again, does he have much serious competition?

5. Now that Roy Keane has shaved off his beard, can we expect the hairy cornflakes of the Tyrone football team to do the same? And is that a good or a bad thing?

6. If Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, then why can’t he tie his laces? Or put another way, is he the fastest man in the world because he doesn’t tie his laces?

7. Has anybody now or ever given a good reason for the continuing ties with the AFL or the International Rules apart from a) those involved getting a nice freebie to Australia or b) taking free-kicks from the hand instead of off the ground?

8. The Gaelic Players Association
is offering associate membership — is it worth joining up?

9. Has Jamie Carragher done the unthinkable and created something even rarer than writing the Great American Novel and written the
Actually Interesting In Certain Parts, Amazingly Enough, For A Footballer’s Autobiography?

10. Is the Munster version of the Haka the Muka or the Maka?

More seriously, if there are New Zealanders playing for Munster, why don’t they do that dance before every game?

11. If someone else in the pub says “I’ll tell you something, there’s going to be big changes in sport because of the recession, mark my words,” are you going to stop rolling your eyes and leave immediately (by way of the off-licence)?

12. Eduardo’s leg against Birmingham: you winced, didn’t you? But then you had to have another look, didn’t you?

13. You don’t really know what to make of Declan Kidney yet either, do you?

14. If, as some people are predicting, the Cork hurling team is beaten into the second division of the NHL next year… and if the team suffers accordingly in the championship itself… are we likely to see them demoted to the Christy Ring Cup, with attendant irony?

15. Admit it — deep down you secretly admire the jerseys of Stade Francais, complete with those freaky-looking queen faces (the 13th-century heroine Blanche de Castille, the wife of Louis VIII and heroine of all of Paris, fact fans): you’d love to have the guts to wear one, wouldn’t you. Or, to be strictly accurate, you wish you didn’t have the gut to wear one?

16. Michael Phelps. The food. Remember? (
watch?v>WouDOVWjfdo if you don’t).

He eats 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day; why is it that he looks like a Michelangelo statue on that diet and your columnist looks like Orson Welles? (And don’t say the training)

17. Exactly how big is Lewis Hamilton? He’s young, rich, talented, cool, famous: can I at least console myself with being taller than him?

18. What is it with Ger Loughnane and priests? Was he a Cromwellian soldier in some past life? Or — slightly more plausible — Martin Luther (“I’ve got 95 Theses, but I’ll only
tell you what they are just before the throw-in”)?

19. Does anyone else think that the build-up to the Lions tour in South Africa next year seems to have been going on since the mid-seventies?

20. Finally, having written a sports book this year, why was this column not forewarned about the irrational hatred suddenly felt towards anybody else who has a book out at this time of the year?

The antipathy towards colleagues who are in direct competition on the sporting front we could have guessed at, but the psychotic bubbling of rage towards the likes of Julie Walters and Dawn French — even if we’re not all appealing to the same constituency — came as a surprise.

Is that normal?

21. Or is it just me?