We've had our ups and downs but I still think Eddie O'Sullivan is a good fit for Connacht
From that point on, we sort of kept our distance from each other. Niall O’Donovan kept the peace between us – every once in a while he’d come to me and go, “Look, you’re driving Eddie mad – will you stick to the gameplan and don’t be going off on your own?”
But there was still a bit of nervous tension there between me and him. As I say, I didn’t understand why he wanted it that way. But I still respected him as a coach.
Funny enough, as the years went by and as I lost my place in the team to Simon Easterby, Eddie and I started getting along far better. We actually had a good chat after the 2003 World Cup that cleared the air between us. When Simon came in and started performing consistently, he was always ahead of me in the pecking order and I knew exactly why – Eddie loved consistency because it allowed him to plan without having to worry.
I was dying to get back into the team and yet Eddie and I were getting on really well and had no issues. By then, I think he saw me as a good guy to have around the squad and a good weapon to have off the bench or to fill in if there was an injury in the backrow. That was a period where there was great success under him and it was harder to get out of the Irish team than to get into it. It ended badly with the World Cup in 2007 but even though that tournament was frustrating for me, I didn’t hold it against him.
With the review that came after that World Cup, I think Eddie knew he had to change his approach. He couldn’t go on keeping his distance from people. He’s a very intelligent man and when I’ve met him since he left the Ireland job the following spring, I’ve noticed a change in him. He much more relaxed these days.
You wouldn’t call him cuddly but he’s definitely easier in himself. I met him during the World Cup in New Zealand when he was over the United States team and I could see that he was more in tune with what his players needed. And obviously, his rugby knowledge is still top-notch.
So why wouldn’t Connacht try to get him involved? It will be a terrible shame if someone with his credentials is lost to the game. Maybe there’s something going on in the background that hasn’t been made public – maybe the IRFU themselves aren’t keen to bring him back for whatever reason.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a better fit for Connacht than somebody like Pat Lam, who looks like he’s going to be the one.
As I’ve said before, I have no problem with our provincial coaches not being Irish, just as long whoever comes in is clearly the best man for the job. I don’t think that’s the situation in this case.