Declan Kidney: ‘Jobs like that, there is always going to be speculation. I’m very happy here in London Irish’

Cork native is enjoying life in England, where he has reopened pathways for young Irish players looking for a second chance
Cian Tracey

You can take the man out of the classroom, but you can’t take the teacher out of the man.

That is true for Declan Kidney, who for the first time since being linked with a return to Munster, faced the media yesterday and drew on his past life as a way of defusing the situation.

Kidney has been around long enough to know how to handle these scenarios, but the fact he didn’t rule himself out of contention to leave London Irish for Munster at the end of the season is unlikely to end the speculation.

The 62-year-old cut a relaxed figure as he answered questions on his future, which he kept bringing back to how content he was at London Irish, where there are big plans to push the club on to that next level.

However, the lure of home could prove too much, depending on what kind of offer, if indeed Munster make any, to the man who led them to both of their Heineken Cups.

A lot has changed since those heady days and, while the game has moved on, Kidney has also adjusted in how he has taken on a director of rugby role that oversees most aspects in terms of the running of London Irish.

If Munster do decide to go down that route, as they did when they initially hired Rassie Erasmus, then they must decide if bringing Kidney back on board represents a step forward.

Having fielded a range of questions about London Irish’s decent form of late, which sees the club in seventh place on the Premiership table, Kidney knew it was only a matter of time before the ‘elephant in the room’ was addressed.

“As a former teacher, you’d say there is always one fella in the class, there is always somebody who is going to bring something up, so, you just managed to get yourself into that bold position there,” Kidney smiled. “Look, jobs like that and positions like that, there is always going to be speculation. I’m very happy here in London Irish and I really enjoy working with the lads.”

Throughout his lengthy career, which included stints with Ireland, Munster, Leinster, the Dragons and UCC, Kidney has never been one to give too much away.

Even still, we pushed him on whether his grá for Munster could tempt him back for a third spell at his home province.

“I have too much respect for my present job, too much respect for Munster, for the IRFU, to be getting into any hypothetical conversation,” the Cork man said.

That was that in terms of the Munster chat, but Kidney certainly did not close the door on a possible return to replace the Bath-bound Johann van Graan next season.

One thing that was made clear, however, is that Kidney is still on top of Irish rugby and the emerging talent coming through the various pathways.

London Irish already have former Ireland internationals Seán O’Brien and Paddy Jackson on their books, while more recently the likes of Hugh O’Sullivan, Cillian Redmond and Tadgh McElroy have also come on board.

O’Sullivan (scrum-half), Redmond (winger) and McElroy (hooker) came through the Leinster system, with varying degrees of success, before they each looked outside the country to further their careers.

Meath native O’Sullivan (23) played 28 games for Leinster, Redmond (21) came through at Tullow RFC and later Lansdowne before he overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma, while Dundalk’s McElroy (24) was a standout player for the Ireland U-20s but he turned down a place in the Connacht academy in favour of a move to England.

“We have said this openly, a lot of the professional players in Ireland are well looked after, but there are some other players then as well, who would like a go in that environment,” Kidney explained.

“Cillian has come in and there was an opportunity that came up for him to get a contract for the year, and he has done really well.

“He is learning a fair bit, I think, and he has taken the few opportunities that have come his way too.

“He has been a good pro and he is learning how to be that. So, hopefully he is enjoying that experience with us.

“We have another player in this week too in Mark Nicholson, who is coming over from Trinity. He is just coming on trial, to experience what it’s like to be in a professional set-up.

“We’ll do that for lads, but we won’t in any way hinder or get in the way of anything the IRFU are doing.

“But lads at home are well looked after, so we wouldn’t be going into a bidding war for any of those. But if anybody would like a different experience of coming abroad, then we would be glad to talk to them.

“We have a lot of good players around too and we’re not just going to ship in lads because of a nationality.

“Our nickname is the Exiles and we have quite, like a lot of the teams in Ireland, a number of different nationalities in our dressing-room, and that’s part of the fun of it – just learning about societies and backgrounds, and everyone respecting one another. There is a great learning in that for us all.”

Having a mentor like O’Brien at the club has helped smooth the transition for those young Irish players.

“He has been very good for all the younger lads here in the academy,” Kidney said of O’Brien. “He has shown them what it takes to be a pro.

“It’s frustrating that Seán hasn’t been on the pitch more but, in what he has done for the club and what he has brought to the club, I couldn’t speak highly enough of him.

“Just his professionalism as to how he goes about doing everything and how he has brought a lot of the younger fellas through then as well,” added Kidney.

It’s clear from speaking to Kidney that nurturing exciting talent from different avenues is an aspect of his current job that he relishes, and when you look at the quality emerging in Munster at the moment, one wonders if he could have a role to play in that.

“I know that London Irish has the potential to be a massive, massive club,” Kidney added.

“The infrastructure is there, what we need to do is just combine the whole thing to make it what I think it could be.

“I suppose I’ll go back to my teaching time. There is lots of potential here, the trick is to use that potential.”

Once a teacher, always a teacher – for a man who may yet have one final chapter of his Munster story left to write.

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