Gordon D’Arcy: Informal leaders have huge role to play

If they don’t drive the culture, the team suffers – as on the Lions tour in 2005

Mick Galway with a young Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara during Amhrán na bhFiann prior to a Six Nations game in 2000. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Inpho

Mick Galway with a young Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara during Amhrán na bhFiann prior to a Six Nations game in 2000. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Inpho

 

Leaders, I’ve seen a few, enough to mention.

In Hermann Hesse’s book, Journey to the East, a band of men cross a mythical land with a simple servant, named Leo, doing all the menial chores while sustaining the collective spirit by singing.

When Leo disappears, in a deep mountain gorge, the group disintegrates into argument as the pilgrimage fails and the narrator sinks into life-long despair. Years later he meets Leo again, and discovers this was no mere servant but a great leader of men.

Above all else, we learn a true leader is a servant first.

A club’s culture can be defined by how the people inside the organisation interact with each other. Do you know the person organising your tickets, your travel? Do you know the names of those working in the canteen? And not just their names, but about their families, where they come from, how they came to be serving you food on a daily basis?

How did Munster go so well for so long?

I instantly see the young faces of Rog and Strings, pale as ghosts, singing Amhrán na bhFiann for that first in 2000, with Mick Galwey gripping his tiny halfbacks.

What went through Gaillimh’s head that day? Maybe it was as simple as – ‘I better mind these fellas today’.

Trevor Brennan once said that his job was to keep me safe so I could do the stuff he could not (I suspect he rather enjoyed those extra security duties).

We all tapped into this protective vein, seeking to repay these Goliaths. See Paulie O’Connell swelling with pride after getting the nod from Claw for shoeing some poor sod in an early game for Young Munster (I get it. I was genuinely happy the day Peter Clohessy remembered my name in Ireland camp).

O’Connell has spoken about his angst on leaving Munster behind, even knowing Peter O’Mahony was in place as his natural successor, because the many facets of leadership were no longer evident, and hadn’t been for some time.

Others follow O’Mahony’s bright leadership torch and Munster, having rediscovered core beliefs, are actively driving their culture this past year, as was evident in torrid Limerick weather on Saturday. But this process, the regeneration of leadership, can take a long time.

Supporters are quick to lose patience. One problem begets the other.

I saw the search for culture unfold in Leinster at the start and end of my career.

Maybe once Munster settle on a starting outhalf their fortunes will soar. Ian Keatley can only be commended for the way he has performed but the same cannot be said of Tyler Bleyendaal. Rassie Erasmus clearly stated Bleyendaal was his preferred option at 10 but he’s injured again. JJ Hanrahan is already 25, and has returned home, but he needs to make a strong case to Johann van Graan sooner rather than later.

Informal leaders

The number 10 should always be one of the vocal leaders. Munster have three outhalves vying for the jersey. That is not a problem in any other position but stability at 10 gives clarity to others.

The captain is vital on any team but he’s going nowhere if the informal leaders don’t drive the culture

Leadership is such an important aspect of sporting success but where does it begin? In Ireland it stems from the current head coach. Nobody can have any doubt about that. But what makes Joe Schmidt such an effective leader?

In 2012, not long after he took over at Leinster, we gathered for a Monday morning review. This analysis would become the bedrock of our consistency so nobody wanted to be highlighted as it meant you hadn’t hit the standards required. The screen was paused after Brian dropped a pass closer to his laces than his chest. Definitely not his fault but instead of blaming the real culprit Joe says dead pan, ‘Good players take those,’ before bouncing onto the next moment. Most people smiled because a clear, ultra-positive message had been delivered.

On this team nobody gets off the hook.

The captain is vital on any team but he’s going nowhere if the informal leaders don’t drive the culture.

I’ve seen such men ruin any chance of a team becoming successful. This happens when the informal leaders neglect their primary purpose, which is to influence, to ensure they are selected. I saw it on the Lions tour in 2005.

Plenty of leaders, once upon a time, plenty of great players, hugely divided. We never stood a chance.

Conor O’Shea was an informal leader who had an enormous influence on my career. For six months. He was the Ireland fullback at the 1999 World Cup and I was his teenage understudy so we did everything on the pitch or in the gym together. We went on these long kicking sessions when everyone went back to the hotel.

This helped me as I couldn’t kick to save my life. I’m not being modest. I really couldn’t kick anywhere near a professional standard.

From age 12 to 20 every time I caught the ball I took off.

Such was O’Shea’s influence, I even stayed in a few nights when the reliables were on it. Conor retired and my life as a fullback went off the rails, before redemption came in the centre.

Conor became coach of Harlequins in the immediate aftermath of bloodgate with a seemingly impossible task; rebuild a culture torn to asunder by cheating and disgrace. Within three years Quins won their first ever Premiership title.

Lasting culture

One of the key tenets to success under Michael Cheika – be it at Leinster, or I’m sure the Wallabies beating the All Blacks last weekend – is how he empowers informal leaders.

Shane Horgan springs to mind from Cheika’s early days in Dublin.

Shaggy grew hugely in this role, eventually encouraging a quiet young number eight to embrace his leadership role.

Cheiks was able to get the influencers in our group to permanently alter their behaviour for the team’s benefit, not their own.

Then Shane and Leo reappeared out of Leicester’s deep gorge and, well, we built a lasting culture.

The killer mindset was sharpened by Joe.

Ireland has an impressive list of informal leaders right now, who take the pressure off Rory Best. It also means if Rory didn’t recover from injury before the Springboks game next month it wouldn’t have a destabilising effect.

The leadership group is so important because, as Johnny Sexton proves week in, week out, the game plan is a tool for on-pitch decision-makers to secure victory by whatever means they deem fit to use.

Every player is a leader in some small way. Every act or behaviour is absorbed by those around them and influences the way everyone else make decisions.

It took me a while to realise what type of leader I was. I tried to lead by talking but ended up contributing by being happy, being punctual, being reliable game on game. By keeping my body working and available whenever it was required (by being an effective decoy!).

What were they thinking with that 'part-time casual' advertisement for a new coach?

Everyone leads in their own way.

Note: In the story Leo’s last name isn’t Cullen, but it could have been.

Women’s team deserve support

The Irish women’s #Legacy? protest must not be ignored by their male counterparts. Remember, we were them once, before professionalism, through the 1980s and well past the 1995 World Cup. The problems aren’t dissimilar; amateur players straining to be the best they can be, but in need of the necessary support from those charged with safeguarding the game.

The IRFU treatment of the women’s team makes no sense. What were they thinking with that “part-time casual” advertisement for a new coach?

There appears to be several disconnects from the IRFU committee men to Philip Browne to the Comms Dept to David Nucifora to Anthony Eddy and lastly to the players themselves.

Considering what they have achieved, the 2013 Grand Slam and beating New Zealand at the 2014 World Cup, the current impasse must be so disheartening. No Irish rugby player wants to be expressing his or her critical views on the IRFU via Twitter.That can only mean they felt there was no alternative. And that is unacceptable.

They have advertised a job that nobody in their right mind would want

If the English women’s blueprint is any sort of guide, and Nucifora has stated their new club structures are precisely that (a blueprint to follow), why on earth have the IRFU not reacted to such a disappointing World Cup campaign on home soil by recruiting a full-time coach to follow Tom Tierney?

The need for a professional is greater than ever.

So, is the financial package on offer below market value? Will he or she be allowed pick the team?

If the answer is no to either question it is not a coach the IRFU are after it is an organiser. They have advertised a job that nobody in their right mind would want.

No, this cannot be ignored any longer.

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