We've had our ups and downs but I still think Eddie O'Sullivan is a good fit for Connacht
Annoyed at me
I definitely frustrated him by going off and doing my own thing sometimes. There would be the odd time where I’d break way from a pre-designed pattern, just to change it up a bit. I was playing well for Munster and I felt that one of my strengths was sometimes doing the unexpected and catching the opposition napping. But Eddie wanted things done the way he wanted them done. He’d get annoyed at me then and tell me to stick to the plan.
When you hear people say about Eddie that he lacked the personal touch, this is where it became a problem. I was used to having coaches that I could sit down with and chat to and get to know. I knew I wasn’t always the easiest player to handle but if a coach sat me down and explained what they were after and what I could do for them, I usually came through for them. Eddie’s approach came as a bit of a shock to me.
Things came to a head on a tour to New Zealand in 2002. Keith Wood was captain and he had a good chat with me ahead of that tour, coming off the back of losing the Heineken Cup final. He said that I was in with a serious chance of playing in the Test side. I thought it was a bit strange that Woody had the chat with me and not Eddie but either way, it was good to hear and it gave me real confidence that I’d get into the team. As it happened, I got injured in a warm-up game and missed the first Test but I recovered to make the bench for the second one.
I got the call to warm up in the second half. This was my first time playing the All Blacks and I was mad to go on and make an impression.
I did that anyway – 60 seconds later, I was in the sinbin for a stamp on Norm Maxwell. I remember sitting on the sideline and the picture I had in my head was of Eddie sitting up in the coaches’ box behind me with steam coming out of his ears. I really don’t help myself sometimes.
I was very low after the game. We had been 19-8 down when I got binned and we were 40-8 down by the time I came back on. We got on the team bus to head for the function and Eddie still hadn’t spoken to me. I was waiting on the dressing down that I knew was coming. As soon as I got off the bus, he pulled me aside and tore into me. There was a fair bit of finger-wagging, all of it deserved I suppose.
Lifted my spirits
Two things happened afterwards that made it harder for me to get my head around him. After the function, we all went to a nightclub and I was still feeling down in the dumps after what I’d done. I was sitting in the corner nursing a beer in the fairly small hours and Eddie came over and said, “Look, cheer up. It’s not the end of the world.” I was sitting there thinking that my Ireland career was over but he lifted my spirits with just a few words. That meant the world to me.
But then, a couple of months later, we had to play World Cup qualifiers against Romania and Georgia. The week before the Romania game, I was called up to his room. I had trained pretty well and I figured I was going to get a bit of a pep-talk about the future and about what he wanted from me in these qualifiers. Instead, I got another rollicking for what had happened against New Zealand and then he told me that as a disciplinary action, I was being omitted from the squad to play Romania. I accepted the punishment but I still went away not sure where I stood with him. What happened to it not being the end of the world?