|Irish rugby boss Declan Kidney|
Declan Kidney has surely met Giovanni Trapattoni in the course of the last few years or so at some awards dinner or other for the best in Irish sport.
So the fact that both their futures could well be determined by events in the coming month won’t seem all that strange to either the coach of the Ireland rugby team or the manager of the Irish soccer squad.
Kidney, from what I know, isn’t anything more than a social soccer fan.
And Trapattoni has explained to us more than once that Italian rugby is a minority sport for a minority he isn’t part of.
They are both renowned coaches however, men with success-laden pasts who understand the cruel irony of sport – only success in the future will keep them in the job.
For both men that future is now short term. Kidney’s contract with the IRFU runs down at the end of the spring, while Trapattoni’s gig with the FAI will end with Ireland’s involvement in the World Cup.
Thus March could be a wicked month for both of them when Ireland’s rugby heroes will conclude their Six Nations campaign and our soccer team face Sweden away and Austria at home in crucial World Cup qualifiers.
Of course, February still comes before March on the calendar. We may be living in austere times on this side of the Atlantic, but the year still runs to the same order. The IMF and the EU haven’t got their mitts on that one yet.
February kicks into gear on Friday. The rugby team kick into championship gear with a game against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, and the soccer stars face Poland in their first outing of 2013 in Dublin next Wednesday.
Neither game will decide Kidney or Trapattoni’s immediate future.
The IRFU, as is their wont, won’t make any decision on Kidney’s chances of leading Ireland into the next World Cup campaign until after his Six Nations fate is sealed.
The FAI have already passed one vote of confidence in Trapattoni during this lackluster qualifying campaign, when he survived that dreadful 6-1 mauling at the hands of Germany at the Aviva Stadium last October.
So it is highly unlikely that Trap’s paymasters will come to any shock decision if Ireland lose to Poland in a game designed only to get the troops back into action ahead of the trip to Stockholm in March.
What will happen next week is that both games, against Wales in rugby and Poland in soccer, will serve as a yardstick for the months to come.
Trapattoni won’t stand or fall by his team’s performance or result in a match likely to attract more Polish immigrants than Irish fans to the old Lansdowne Road.
But his selection, his tactics and his mood will tell us just how he is going to treat the game he cannot afford to lose in Sweden at the end of March.
He has, at least, been bold with his squad selection, and we can only hope that the Norwich pair of Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington and boyhood friends Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick get a chance to show what they can do for a decent period of time against the Poles.
We’ll know more about Trap’s state of mind this time next week when his team to play the Poles, which will be out in time for the next edition of the Irish Voice. I can promise you we will discuss the same subject, same time and same place, next week.
By then, we will also know how Ireland’s Six Nations season is going to shape up after the opening match on Saturday against a Welsh side which has won all of the last three encounters between the Celtic cousins.
Like Trap, Kidney is being brave with his team selection, and that’s a good thing. Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy will start in Cardiff despite their youth, and that’s a positive.
So is Kidney’s current attitude to judge by his comments in an interview with the great Michael Corcoran of RTE Radio at last week’s launch of the Six Nations championship in London.
Asked about his own future – and this could be his last title bid in charge of Ireland – Kidney quoted from a saying passed onto him by an old friend, a saying that is well worth repeating.
The former school teacher told RTE, “A fella told me once that if you want to make God laugh, tell him what you’re doing tomorrow.
“My tomorrow is just about getting ready for our opening Six Nations match against Wales. Whatever happens in the future, happens in the future.
“I’m just going to enjoy the now. To have the privilege of coaching Ireland this year is a huge honor for me and one that I take really seriously.
“There haven’t been any discussions with the Irish Rugby Football Union. What will happen, will happen.”
Those words could, of course, come back to haunt Kidney if the games in Wales goes wrong on Saturday.
But the coach appears to be in a good place. If his team can adopt the same attitude, get their Six Nations bid up and running against Wales and then worry about the games to come, we could even be in for a decent season.
If we are, then Kidney could well get that new contract before the campaign is over.
As Trapattoni also knows, this is a results business and the time to deliver is almost upon us. For both men.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
SOCCER: Bradford City’s Donegal-born youngster Carl McHugh is off to Wembley next month for the Capitol One League Cup final against Swansea after scoring one of the goals that knocked Shay Given and Aston Villa out in the two-legged semis. McHugh’s fairytale season with Bradford has been incredible, but his success has presented his close friend Paddy McBrearty with a bit of a problem. Paddy is due to play for Donegal in the NFL on the day of the final but wants leave of absence to head to Wembley. Considering his new soccer allegiances with Glasgow Celtic, Donegal boss Jim McGuinness may offer a sympathetic ear.
GOLF: Padraig Harrington is off to America this week for a four-week attempt to win another PGA Tour title. He still has some way to go to catch Tiger Woods, who recorded an astonishing 75th win in California on Monday, but Padraig says he is in good shape and ready to compete again, and we should believe him. Darren Clarke won’t be competing in America or Dubai this week after picking up a minor injury in a car crash – we have yet to hear how the car is doing!
GAA: Farewell to Kevin Heffernan, the godfather of Dublin GAA who was buried on Tuesday when a host of All-Ireland medal winners paid tribute to his life. Heffo, as my Irish Sun colleague Cian Murphy put it so elegantly, is the only man in the GAA to have an army named after him – Heffo’s Army ruled the game in the 1970s. They changed it forever and for the better which is a testament to his ability as a manager.
GAA: Good to hear that the recent Match for Michaela in Belfast raised a whopping $200,000 for the foundation set up in memory of the late Michaela Harte. It won’t bring Michaela back, but I am sure her dad Mickey, the Tyrone boss, and husband John McAreavey can take some comfort from the event last November and its incredible monetary success.
RACING: Those who were in Cheltenham on the day Big Zeb won the Queen Mother Champion Chase for trainer Colm Murphy in 2010 will remember the whoop of delight from the Wexford man as he led the horse into the winner’s enclosure. Murphy has now decided to retire Big Zeb but those memories will always be special.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
IT is 19 years now since Leitrim footballers last won anything, and it may be another 19 before they win anything of note again, but that shouldn’t detract from their victory over Sligo in the FBD Connacht League final on Sunday. As captain Emlyn Mulligan - who just must be named after the great Liverpool skipper Emlyn Hughes – the victory is to be enjoyed by Leitrim people everywhere as it has been a long time in the making. And proof that sport can always surprise and delight, even when you’re a Leitrim GAA fan.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
SO farewell then to Mario Balotelli, the Italian striker who is set to quit Manchester City for AC Milan by the time the transfer window closes on Thursday. Balotelli has an unbelievable talent as a footballer, but his idiocy won’t be missed by the English game. A real case of “too much too young” if ever there was one.