Coach says captain call was less about demoting one than elevating the other
As much as Brian O’Driscoll’s demotion from the Ireland captaincy after more than a decade in the role is momentous, yesterday’s decision also constitutes the most noteworthy promotion for an Ireland player since the then 23-year-old O’Driscoll was installed in Keith Wood’s absence in November 2002.
“We built some momentum in November and he was a part of that,” said Declan Kidney yesterday, “and that’s the best compliment you can pay a captain, that he didn’t try to be all-consuming, or do someone else’s job, he let everyone else get on with their job.
“But he was able to do his own job and take on the leadership role with the others. Sometimes it’s not what you do but what you let others around you do.”
Unlike 2002 though, the legend is still in the ranks, and after everything O’Driscoll has given to his country’s team, in the pantheon of difficult coach-player one-on-ones, this decision must have been particularly hard to explain.
“Yes, because it was not something Brian was ever going to give up, or felt he should give it up. Maybe some time in the future but he wouldn’t have felt that the time would be right now.
“Sometimes as a coach that’s what your job is, to make the calls you feel are at the right time for the player even though the player mightn’t agree with you.
“That’s basically the job, there’s not too many ways of saying it, but it is very tough.”
Acutely disappointed though O’Driscoll was, Kidney noted: “None of us are here forever, so if you’re not disappointed when something is taken from you, then you’re not human. It’s a word that describes how you feel, it’s not a word that describes how you act.
“Isn’t it way better to have him in the dressingroom and have him there and have that experience to lean on when you are there, as much as wait for it to be gone? There is nothing to say that Brian won’t be back as captain in the future.
“Jamie is captain for the Six Nations and then we’ll assess how things are after that.”
The captaincy was obviously the most eye-catching selection in an enlarged 39-man “training squad” which also has one eye on next Friday’s Wolfhounds game against the English Saxons.
Hence, five uncapped players are included; young Connacht backs Dave McSharry and Robbie Henshaw and Lewis Stevenson, Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson of Ulster.
The backrow options will be supplemented after the weekend’s matches, with Kevin McLaughlin (the one notable omission from the autumn squad), Robbie Diack, Rhys Ruddock, Tommy O’Donnell, Roger Wilson and James Coughlan on stand by.
Kidney said that were the omitted Paddy Wallace or James Downey called in for the Welsh game they “would slot right in”, suggesting Dave McSharry’s inclusion ahead of them is more an investment in the future.
“He has gone well enough to start challenging for a place now. If he gets some pitch-time in the Saxons match then let’s make our decisions after that in the same way as we made them after the Fiji match.”