SOMEONE in the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) is doing a seriously good job on Declan Kidney's public image and his relationship with the media.

A private man, Kidney has never been comfortable in front of the cameras or the massed ranks of an industry now covering rugby in its droves.

Like all Irish sports, the oval balled game has witnessed a dramatic increase in the coverage of its activities over the last 20 years.

Not that long I interviewed the late Jim Davidson on the pitch at Lansdowne Road at the end of an Ireland training session - and he was the national coach!

Today everything to do with the national team is organized down to a T, including all access to current chief Kidney.

Where once a handful of journalists followed Ireland's call, today you can have a handful of hacks from The Irish Times alone in tow with the team.

Such attention brings its own demands, and there was a feeling abroad and at home that Kidney would not be comfortable at the eye of a media storm.

Well, if Saturday's performance in Thomond Park was anything to go by Kidney is going to do just fine as Ireland's number one.

On the pitch the Irish were workmanlike as they went about the business of dismantling a Canadian team that was about as useful as the now defunct Progressive Democrats party.

Debutant Keith Earls looked a million dollars on his first run in the big green jersey, Stephen Ferris was immense in the back row, and winger Rob Kearney added to his growing reputation in the nine try rout.

Off the field and after the match was where Kidney earned his real kudos, however, as he underwent a media transformation.

Interviewed by Treacy Piggot for RTE straight after the game, the Corkman was forthcoming, interesting and even eloquent with his range of answers.

He even provided one of the more worthy responses I have heard in such circumstances when he insisted that the Irish players would enjoy Saturday's win and not worry until Sunday about the more daunting match against the All-Blacks next weekend.

"You have to enjoy these days because if you forget about enjoying them life can pass you by," said Kidney.

Such a statement would never have been heard from the old and media reticent Declan Kidney.

His job is not to please the media, and his media skills will not determine his success as Ireland's national team coach at a time when the squad badly needs a lift after recent World Cup and Six Nations debacles.

But how he handles the media will determine the level of pressure on Kidney's shoulders as he deals with one of the most stressful jobs in Irish sport.

So far it is so good for the man in charge. The win on Saturday told us precious little about Ireland, simply because Canada were so bad, but the RTE interview afterwards told us that Kidney is up to that side of his job.

As a result you will find the media on Kidney's side - for now. Like all those in charge of our national sporting ambitions he is only as good as his next game.

In Kidney's case that's against the mighty New Zealand at Croke Park next Saturday. How he copes with that situation, on and off the field, promises to be mighty interesting.

A Keane Debate

FEW subjects evoke as much passion in Irish sporting circles as Robbie Keane's ability as a striker for club and country.

There are people out there, some journalists included, who perpetually claim that the man should be put down for his crimes against a football.

There are others - myself included and I make no bones about saying it - who will tell you that he is the finest player of his generation.

The debate raged again in the offices of Star Sunday on Friday, if you know what I mean, when our regular sports editor was away on holiday and a fanatical Liverpool fan stepped into the breach.

Ger, that's his name, loves the Reds more than anything in his life, and I say that quite literally.

John, a colleague from Tipperary who will always put the GAA before the garrison game, was anxious to wind Ger up on Friday afternoon so he casually threw a disparaging remark about Keane into the office banter.

The air turned blue as Ger of the Reds jumped to Robbie's defense in a manner befitting O.J. Simpson's infamous lawyer whose name escapes me right now.

The pair of them went at it hammer and tongs as Ger pointed out that Keane has scored more goals for his country than any other striker, and John responded that no Irish player has missed as many chances as our Robbie.

It took a good 10 minutes and a bar of Swiss chocolate to calm them down, but the great debate took flight again on Saturday night as Liverpool thumped West Brom 3-0 at Anfield, and Keane scored his first two league goals in a red shirt.

Naturally enough Ger couldn't wait to ring John and rub his nose in it, but John countered by claiming that two league goals wasn't much return for a player who cost Rafa Benitez some 20 million sterling in the summer.

For what it's worth Keane isn't employed as an out and out goal scorer by Liverpool, even if the quality of his two finishes on Saturday was top drawer.

His real value to the team is as a frontline playmaker, someone who can create something a little unusual and drag mistakes from defenders, a job he is doing very well at present.

His manager Benitez at least knows the value of Tallaght's finest.

"I have always wanted to support Robbie, he has been playing and contributing to our victories," said Benitez on Saturday night.

"I have had no doubts that he would start to score regularly for us. Robbie has told me he has got a monkey off his back, not an expression I had heard before but I understand what he meant.

"Robbie has game intelligence and he is always a threat to defenders. It was only a matter of time before he scored in the league. He is quick and can punish any mistakes that defenders make, and that is what he did."

If Keane is good enough for a man like Rafa Benitez then that should be good enough for the rest of us.

Hero Of the Week

KEITH Earls was brought up so close to Thomond Park that he could hear the noise on big match day as soon as he opened his front door. On Saturday Earls was responsible for a lot of the noise at the famous Limerick venue as Ireland hammered Canada when he scored a try with his first touch of the ball. As debuts go it was mighty impressive.

Idiot Of the Week

THE latest scandal surrounding the eircom League involves allegations of gambling coups within the game and players betting against their own teams. One senior player at St. Patrick's Athletic has already admitted his small bet on Galway in a recent game against the Saints, while there are serious rumors about a Monaghan Longford Town game. Any player found guilty of this offense should be made a scapegoat by the FAI.

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Cillian Sheridan's development as a targetman with Glasgow Celtic is to be applauded. Ireland needs someone to finally replace Niall Quinn in that department, and so far Sheridan looks the most likely candidate of the current generation. Robbie Keane's current foil Kevin Doyle, by the way, has just signed a new contract at Reading in a bid to keep the transfer rumors at bay when the window re-opens in January, but you can still expect him to move to the Premier League, with Villa or Spurs his likely destinations.

SOCCER: Shamrock Rovers played their last home game away from home when they drew with Derry City at Tolka Park on Friday night. After 21 years roaming around Dublin venues following the disgraceful sale of Milltown, the Hoops will finally move to their new home in Tallaght for the start of next season. I passed the ground the other day and it looks really impressive, so at least there is one good new story in domestic football at a time when the eircom League is in freefall.

RUGBY: Fair play to RTE's Tom McGuirk for a great line describing the dreadful conditions at Thomond Park for Ireland's win over Canada on Saturday. "The rain is straight out of Angela's Ashes," said McGuirk, and he was dead right.

RUGBY LEAGUE: The Irish team has been going great guns at the Rugby League World Cup in Australia, but you would struggle to find any man in the street who can name more than one of their star players. Maybe this tournament will change all that, but somehow I doubt it.