Liam Toland: Coach can lead players to water but can't make them drink

Leinster and Munster could both be doing much better with a little more composure

Well, a week on and I'm still as mad as hell. In the sanctity of my home I shouted and shouted at the TV last Sunday as Toulon opened the door for Leinster. The day before I was perched in Thomond Park. For all of Munster's obvious challenges this season I truly felt that Leicester were the ideal opposition to provoke a reaction and performance. Leicester were vulnerable in Thomond Park, as suggested on these pages last Friday. In Welford Road they are much less so. But should Munster add large dollops of composure to their improved performance, they will the English midlanders.

Leinster are also struggling but a team with Lions, internationals and quality interprovincial players should never go anywhere with tail between their legs. Limit breakdown engagement, expose Toulon’s high scrummaging, bring on subs early if required and a result could follow.

There are many deeper facets to examine but with the sacking of Chelsea’s José Mourinho yesterday, I wonder what is the role of the manager/coach in the professional era?

Successful franchise

As usual there's some homework: Jeff Pearlman's Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty is a fascinating insight into turning a once proud and successful franchise back into a great winning one.


There can often be confusion between a team that creates a professional environment and a team in a professional sport.

For instance, GAA teams are extremely professional in their approach, which is highly commendable given the huge commitment needed from players and managers alike. But there is a difference and it’s oft times misunderstood.

Pearlman outlines how the Dallas Cowboy's new owner Jerry Jones and new coach Jimmy Johnson went about rebuilding the franchise by firing hundreds of personnel. This is not a provincial option. Success followed, with many heads rolling, but not just those of the players. Along with Tom Landry, general manager Tex Schramm and perceived dead weight administrators were culled; then Johnson kicked in.

The Chicago Bulls are one of the most successful franchises in NBA history in winning The Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy six times in an eight-year period in the 1990s, inspired by the legendary Michael Jordan.

But what of my question? What was Bull’s coach Phil Jackson’s role? In simple terms, he was to create the environment for success where the team arrive to the playoffs. If all is in the balance with seconds of the final game remaining, the coach then ensures that the Bulls get the crucial winning score. His successful plan ensures the ball is transferred to Jordan with a shot on. If Jackson achieves this, then he has successfully coached his team. What of the shot? That’s up to Jordan. Regardless of the shot outcome, Jackson did his job.

In understanding the plight of our provincial coaches we must understand that their role is to get the team into position; it’s up to the team to convert. Neither Munster nor Leinster converted last weekend. What has me mad all week? Both Leicester and Toulon were more than vulnerable.

Intercounty mandarin

I once chatted with an intercounty mandarin who had just appointed a successful manager to their flagging team. I asked him about his definition of success.

He told me that success was based entirely on All-Irelands and that the new man had won them. Hence, he was the man for the job. I pressed on. What of the external elements that will dictate the outcome? The referee’s decision, key players injured, player retirements or player discipline. The man had no interest; All-Irelands or out. There was no understanding of the realities of professional sport. If Munster and Leinster are not winning European Cups, how then should their coach’s success be rated?

The trouble for Munster is that should their management get the players into position with a clear shot available, there’s no guarantee that the shot will be taken or indeed made. Much, of course, has been made of individual performances in Leinster and Munster. It’s always hard to hide key players such as outhalves when they are struggling (early substitution I suppose). However, in Thomond Park, had the players managed to have shown more composure they would have beaten Leicester.

Field position, possession, scoreboard, who scored last, physical energy and, crucially, emotional energy all play a part in plotting the minutes in front of you.

A long way from the coalface, ironically the fullback can be the catalyst for managing these emotions. Look at England and Harlequin fullback Mike Brown, dragging fixtures back from the death.

Munster's Andrew Conway could benefit from knowing when to go and when to stay, like a hybrid of Girvan Dempsey and Mike Brown. In Welford Road his team need Conway to be composed and fully in control of what's the right thing to do at that point in time.


Finally, who wants to be a Munster or Leinster coach? Both are superb brands but what about the challenges? Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones rebuilt with coach Jimmy Johnson. But Johnson didn’t have an Irish coach intent on getting his pound of flesh from the players physically and emotionally. Or a union that dictated who could be bought or transferred. Or an influence from on high over provincial selection. Or a lack of financial resources to compete with the big boys of Europe.

PS: After finishing with the Bulls, Phil Jackson went to coach the Los Angeles Lakers and won five more championships. In total, he has won 11 NBA titles as a coach and two more as a player with New York Knicks. How did he do it? Isn't that worth investigating?