Sunday 23 October 2016

Matt O'Connor: I'd love to have had run with Sexton

'You didn't get the access to the players that you'd have liked'

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor
Jonathan Sexton

Matt O'Connor leaves Leinster with the regret that he will not get to work with a real difference maker in Jonathan Sexton.

"That will be the most disappointing aspect about not being here next season because he is genuinely world-class," said the Australian.

"What Johnny can deliver for the team and the environment and the group is something very special."

While O'Connor would not travel as far as to declare Sexton the best fly-half on the planet, there are not many his equal.

"There are probably two or three Johnny Sexton's globally at the moment," he issued.

"That would have been fantastic to coach him because you can do unbelievable things on the footie field when you've got Johnny pulling the strings."

Surely, O'Connor would still be in place at Leinster had Jimmy Gopperth's 77th minute drop goal sailed the left side of the upright in The Champions Cup semi-final loss to Toulon in Marseille.


"That is the margin, isn't it?" he reflected. "I haven't focussed on it as the significant moment in me being at Leinster or not. I don't think that is the reason.

"I think there were other things that happened throughout the course of the season that were probably more significant than that.

"We worked incredibly hard to get into a position to win that game.

"If we had have got through that game, we would have went to Twickenham against Clermont with every chance to win the European Cup which is what we set ourselves at the start.

"But, we didn't. And you can't live on the 'what ifs?'

Perhaps, the growth of Glasgow Warriors into 2015 PRO12 League champions throws an even greater light on Leinster's 2014 Grand Final wipe-out of Gregor Townsend's men last May.

"The PRO12 final was one of our best performances. No doubt," considered O'Connor.

"The beauty of that was that we saved it for the biggest day of the year.

"The ability to get that consistency and that level of performance post-Six Nations last year was certainly a highlight."

One year later, O'Connor found himself on the outside looking in. It would be only human to harbour resentment about the way he was treated.This is not his way.

"There have been a lot of positives in my time here," he said.

"This is probably best reflected in the fact that we didn't lose one guy from the club that we wanted to keep in the two years with a lot of high profile players and hugely talented youngsters coming off contract. They wanted to stay and play and thought this was the best place for them."

There was the solid chat about Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien decamping for France. Their decisions to stay were connected to their belief in the coach.

The timing of Leinster's late decision to short-circuit O'Connor's contract one year early has hindered pursuit of a new coach.

There is now a strong chance inexperienced coach Leo Cullen will be the man in the hot seat earlier than he would have expected, maybe even wanted.

"Leo was very, very good this year for a guy who was brand new to it. Nobody knows the Leinster environment better.

"There are probably coaches out there with better CVs and more experience. But, is that a better fit?

"As long as the expectation is managed and he has the backing of the Board and the players, Leo is probably as good as anyone to do it."

The temptation to take another pot shot at those who saw the world in a different way has receded.

He would not be drawn back into the details of what went wrong with the IRFU.

"You didn't get the access to the players that you would have liked in the sense that you would have liked to have spent more time with them," he conceded.

"They are a fantastic group. They're very talented from the senior blokes right through to the Academy lads.

"You just would have liked a bit more continuity to mould them and shape them and see where we ended up."

Alas, the real world does not revolve around our hopes and dreams or even the realities of doing a job without many of the men that built the club.

"There is the experience we lost in the changing room. That was massive. That is the nature of the game.

"There was always going to be a transitional period where some of those guys because of their age profile were moving on."

Just when O'Connor thought he was going to be able to work with a general in Sexton, the long-term plans had to be torn up.

"We also lost a lot of experience out of the backroom, guys like Jono (Gibbes), Feekie (Greg Feek), Arthur Tanner, Steve Smyth, even Johnny Claxton, who was tremendously valuable.


"There was a lack of experience in that backroom that really hurt us in the early part of the season, confidence-wise, because we had injuries and we didn't have a lot of great results.

"Everybody worked as hard as they could and we learned a lot of valuable lessons out of it towards the back end.

"The results in Europe certainly demonstrated that we were making some good progress as a playing group and as a staff."

O'Connor had already put in the groundwork on how best to deal with the impact of the World Cup on Leinster.

"We had been planning for a long time for the loss of the internationals

"There are going to be a lot of guys away, a lot of inexperience in the group, depending on injuries in the build-up.

"You've got seven games in the World Cup period. You've got guys being rested post-World Cup and then you've got the Six Nations.

"The margins are pretty fine in the League.

"Meritocracy has changed it. Everyone fights a little harder for every point and all the way to the end of the season.

"You've got to be really up for it every week.

"While the Leinster Professional Games Board made the decision to move on without him, he is not exactly short of options or offers right now.

Don't be surprised to see O'Connor reappear quickly with one of the bigger jobs in world rugby.



Promoted articles

Entertainment News