Leinster appoint Leo Cullen as new head coach
Johnny Sexton says former team-mate has qualities to succeed with province
New Leinster head coach Leo Cullen won three Heineken Cups with the province as captain. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton could hardly have said otherwise when hailing the appointment of Leo Cullen as Leinster’s new head coach, but the manner in which the prodigal Leinster outhalf welcomed the news was clearly genuine.
Leinster belatedly confirmed Cullen’s two-year deal yesterday (the delay may have had something to do with IRFU high performance director David Nucifora having been on holidays), along with the return of another prodigal son, Kurt McQuilkin, as defence coach, on a two-year contract.
“It’s been rumoured for weeks now, they were just trying to sort out the details,” said Sexton. “It’s great news for the province to have somebody who knows the place so well in charge and knows the standards that are needed to compete at the highest level.
“That’s where we want to get back to and I think he’s the right man. The other guys who he’s brought in with him bring a bit of freshness as well, with Kurt coming back after a break and John Fogarty as well, and then the backs is Girvan [Dempsey] for the time being and we’ll see how that goes. So it’s good.”
Dempsey, the academy director, will be backs coach until after the World Cup, with Richie Murphy set to return as skills coach after the World Cup. Fogarty had already been installed as scrum coach.
Cullen’s appointment – barely a year after retiring as a player and after just one year as forwards coach – suggests the Leinster Professional Game Board were a tad hasty in dismissing Matt O’Connor. Or, in any event, they did not evidently have a Plan B, especially after Robbie Deans rejected their overtures.
At face value, it looks to have happened sooner than either Leinster or their three-time Heineken Cup-winning captain would have planned, and with a particularly difficult season in the offing.
But Sexton responded to this by saying: “Special people do special things and he’s been an outstanding leader for Leinster. He was always the voice that people went to in the set-up, when I was there anyway.
“It was always Joe’s voice first and foremost when I was there, and then not too far behind was Leo’s. And at times Leo was able to tell Joe [Schmidt] how he saw things and Joe took it on board.
“He’s got great experience having worked with three really good coaches.”
Asked what traits Cullen brought as a captain and is liable to bring as a head coach, Sexton said: “Just the honesty. As a player, that’s what you want from your coach.
“Sometimes it’s hard to take. But you want someone who gives it to you straight-up and doesn’t leave you in two minds. I’ve had coaches before where they tell you you’re doing great, but then drop you in the very same conversation and you’re left wondering. I’d rather a coach just said to me ‘this is how it is, this is what you need to improve on.’”
Cullen will also bring discipline, said Sexton.
“Already I can see around the place, it’s such a big thing and it’s so important in an environment. And he’s a clever guy. Combine all those things, and he is very similar to Joe in that regard.”