Matt O’Connor backs Leo Cullen for Leinster head coach job
Former coach believes managing expectation will be key for whoever takes over post
Coach Matt O’Connor talks to the Leinster players during the Champions Cup semi-final against Toulon in Marseille. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Matt O’Connor has given his backing to Leo Cullen to take over as Leinster head coach following his departure from the post, while advising whoever does get the job at the RDS that one of the key tasks will come in managing expectation at the province.
Former Ireland secondrow Cullen has been given the interim job as head coach after O’Connor was let go two years into a three-year deal and the Australian, speaking on RTÉ 2fm’s Game On programme on Thursday night, believes his former forwards’ coach can make the step up.
“Yeah, definitely, you know there’s nobody that knows more about Leinster Rugby than Leo Cullen,” said O’Connor.
“From my perspective I certainly wish him all the best. Does he want it? Is it perfect timing? No, it’s not, but I think certainly if you weighed up all the pros and cons, there wouldn’t be too many blokes better to do the job.”
Despite taking Leinster to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, where they took eventual winners Toulon to extra-time before losing in France, the failure of Leinster to make a meaningful defence of their Guinness Pro 12 title after a poor league season saw pressure grow on O’Connor in his final weeks in the job.
Explaining his frustration at how much of the season went, O’Connor said: “We had a pretty disruptive campaign across the whole league you know, we had injuries at the start of the season and then it gets broken up with the international schedule and then we were trying to fight on two fronts at the back end.
“So from that perspective, it was a very, very frustrating and disjointed campaign for us. To come fifth is no disgrace, but the expectation is higher than that.”
It’s that expectation level that comes with the job that O’Connor says must be managed by his successor in what is a much more competitive environment.
Asked what advice he would give the next Leinster coach O’Conor said:
“Manage the expectation and I probably didn’t do as good a job at that as I should have. You can’t win every year, that’s the reality of it, nobody wins every year. I think, you know, the Leinster fans, as fantastic as they’ve been, need to have a little bit more clarity in relation to what’s acceptable and what is realistic.”
O’Connor and his family are in the process of moving home to Australia and the 44-year-old believes with a World Cup coming up that there will be plenty of opportunities coming up in the near future.
“We’ll head back to Australia, the timing’s good in relation to the World Cup and the opportunities that are around,” said O’Connor.
“There’ll be a lot of movement post World Cup in relation to what happens in Aus and also what happens in Europe. We’ll wait and see but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time, I think we’ve had seven seasons in Europe and had some fantastic success in that time at Tigers and at Leinster and you wouldn’t change a day of it.”