Is Schmidt really finishing coaching?; Kenny looking for expansive football

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

New Republic of Ireland under-21 manager Stephen Kenny at the Aviva stadium yesterday. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

New Republic of Ireland under-21 manager Stephen Kenny at the Aviva stadium yesterday. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

An era comes to an end as Joe Schmidt announces his departure from the Ireland coaching role. And what an era it has been. A historic year capped off by three awards for Ireland in Monte Carlo on Sunday night. As Gerry Thornley writes in his column this morning “the unlikely setting of Monte Carlo, and according to World Rugby’s statement “in the presence of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco” no less, provided the backdrop to something of the ultimate crowning glory for Irish rugby.” Schmidt will be replaced by Andy Farrell after next year’s World Cup in Japan after he released a statement saying that he plans to “finish coaching”. For how long his absence from the training ground will last it is hard to know but the idea of stopping altogether has certainly raised some eyebrows but perhaps, akin to Pep Guardiola, another enlightened and intensely devoted coach consumed by his profession, this self-confessed workaholic simply needs a break. The tributes poured in from all sides yesterday, not least at Leinster where they are preparing to get back to Pro14 action before the next round of Champions Cup games come round. “In the Glasgow game away I got sinbinned and was roasted by Joe,” scrum coach John Fogarty, remembers. “‘You will never play in this team again if you act selfishly like that,’ which was fair enough.”

Moving on to soccer where the changing of the guard is also happening. Stephen Kenny was yesterday unveiled as the new under-21 Ireland manager – a post he will hold until August 2020 when he will step up to the senior team role after Mick McCarthy leaves. Kenny says that the Ireland job is not something he has majorly focused on or allowed drive him but the one moment which really brought it into focus was last year’s 5-1 playoff defeat to Denmark in Dublin. “If you play in a progressive, attacking way, the vast majority buy into what you are doing. Players want to play that way,” he said yesterday. Tonight it is Champions League action which takes centre stage as an embattled José Mourinho looks to avoid a second disappointment in four days at Old Trafford when Manchester United take on Young Boys. Speaking yesterday Luke Shaw acknowledged that the players do need a “thick skin” to play under Mourinho but he says they are all ready to fight for the manager and the club. Also in action tonight are Premier League leaders Manchester City who face Lyon. Manager Pep Guardiola says that, while domestic success is all well and good, his side need to win the Champions League to achieve real greatness.

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