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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Byrne: O'Connor's success can be gauged by the support of players

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor

It always starts with the players.

When a coach is about to be given the heave-ho, there is a break in the playing ranks. It happened behind closed doors with Gary Ella at Leinster. They weren't too taken with Declan Kidney either.

Senior players wield power and influence and they like what they see in Matt O'Connor, according to former Ireland hooker Shane Byrne.

Since the short-lived eras of Ella and Kidney, chief executive Mick Dawson has led a pro-active approach to recruiting men that have taken Leinster to the next level.

It started with Michael Cheika. Then Joe Schmidt. And now Matt O'Connor.

For some supporters, the jury is still out on the Australian. For the senior players, behind the scenes, he is the right man for them.

"The man had bloody big shoes to fill. There's no doubt about that. Probably, the previous coach was tailor-made for what Leinster needed," said Byrne.

"It was definitely a hard job to come into. The main thing is that the players still speak very positively about him.

"The first chink in the armour is always the players. When he starts losing the changing room, losing the training pitch, there is a chink in the armour. There is no sign of that. That is the main thing."

There is also the annual snipe at Leinster's indifferent start to the season. It has almost always been thus, even in the time of Schmidt.

Remember Schmidt's first season? Leinster lost two out of four. His second? They lost three out of four. His third? They lost two out of four. His fourth? They lost two out of five.

Leinster won two, drew one and lost one to Glasgow, for a bonus-point, in O'Connor's first season at the wheel. The PRO12 League title duly followed. Not too bad at all.

"On Leinster not starting off well - barring last year - we normally don't start off very well. There are ups and downs. But, the silverware has come in," said Byrne.

There is no better time to find your feet than against Munster in front of over 40,000 supporters at the Aviva Stadium.

"Interprovincial isn't a word that is used too often now, but it still means something," he pushed.

"The players still recognise, against Irish provinces, you want to get past these games and you want to win the game."

He doesn't see Leinster's failure to win the European Cup in the last two seasons as a reason to reach for the panic button.

"Like all provinces, when you're going well you want to win the big competition.

"As long as some silverware is coming in, he's ticking the boxes. He's developing a big squad."

O'Connor has shown trust early and often this season in Leinster Academy hooker Bryan Byrne, his brother Edward and former Ireland U20 Steve Crosbie.

He has also shown an outside-the-box thinking process to parachute AIL try machine Mick McGrath in ahead of Academy candidates.

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