Hard work pays off for Kidney’s heroes

 

Declan Kidney stood with his back to a wall and revealed the solid bricks which had delivered Ireland’s first Grand Slam for 61 years. “Honesty. Trust. Hard work,” said Ireland’s head coach in the wake of the momentous occasion in Cardiff.

They were all virtues which Ireland drew on in the last few frantic minutes at the Millennium Stadium when the lead switched back and forth dramatically before Ronan O’Gara eventually slotted the drop goal which gave the Irish a 17-15 triumph.

The Grand Slam plan, however, was hatched back in December at a training camp in Enfield, Galway.

Kidney explained: “That was our opportunity. We sat down and I have a brilliant bunch of team leaders. Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, ROG (Ronan O’Gara). Rory Best. We had a frank discussion. We put everything out on the table.

“It was nothing hugely scientific. We were just honest with each other. By talking about it there were suddenly a lot of doors opening. To win a Triple Crown and a Grand Slam makes it exceptional.”

What that training camp fostered was a team spirit which allowed Ireland to stick together even when they were turning in disappointing performances in victories over Italy and England.

Ireland’s wealth of experience after coming so close to winning the title three times in the last decade ultimately is what saw them through.

Kidney said: “We had a lot of winners out on the pitch. Fellas who are used to staying the pace and we tried to feed off that. They’ll be rattling into each other in a fortnight when Munster take on Leinster. Grand Slam champions having a go at each other. Tickets will be scarce for that one.

“The lads are just genuinely honoured and proud of being where we are and they have put that much sweat and toil into it.”

It all looked like being to no avail when Wales outhalf Stephen Jones kicked a drop goal, to go with four earlier penalties, which took Wales into the lead one minute into injury time after O’Driscoll and Bowe had scored second-half tries.

But O’Gara came up with a drop-goal of his own after the Irish pack had stayed patient and worked the position from a lineout. And then came the final drama when Jones lined up the penalty which, if it had gone over, would have snatched away glory with the last kick of the match.

What went through Kidney’s mind?

“I just looked upstairs and said it’s not over till it’s over,” said Kidney. “You tell yourself that a lot in sport and 99per cent of the time it is over. But I knew it was at the maximum of his range.

“I had told them at half-time ‘We need to go after this lads.‘ And we did. It was a huge team effort.”

There was no doubt the better team won, just as no-one could deny Kidney his hour of glory in his first season in charge after his success in winning two Heineken Cups with Munster.

O’Driscoll put it down to Kidney having “the X-factor”.

Kidney’s explanation was more about instilling player responsibility.

“I am a believer in that you never nail down a jersey,” he said. “It is yours for that afternoon and that is your chance. You leave your DNA in it and it is what you leave that matters. Hopefully, these lads have filled it so come our next match in May whoever plays will feel the onus is on them.”

At which point the history-making magnitude of Ireland’s feat appeared to dawn fully for the first time.

“What do we have, 100 professional players?” asked Kidney. “And we have managed to come away with a Grand Slam. It’s unbelievable isn’t it? Maybe I won’t pinch myself because then I’ll wake up. But it’s a special time. Hopefully we’ve made Ireland proud of us.”

Nothing was more certain.