Dave Cahill wrote: ↑
February 12th, 2021, 11:21 am
We have a tendancy in Ireland to judge player development progress by only looking at the players with double digits on their backs - but if you look at guys like Furlong, Porter, O'Sullivan, O'Toole, Baird, Ryan, Coombes, O'Connor, vd Flier, Doris - as soon as they demonstrated any kind of form at provincial level they were in Carton House. Even at that, look at Ringrose, Henshaw, Carbury, Stockdale, Larmour - all promoted to the national side in their very early 20s.
Add to that Leavy and Kelleher in recent years and Dillane, Henderson, Rob K, Luke Fitz, Darce, Drico, Murray and Earls...in their time
It points to the fact that a total bottle-neck at half-back has developed, caused by blind loyalty (Murray) and also fear (Sexton) in the last 3 seasons, despite shocking losses of form and injury (Murray) and general ageing affecting performance and athleticism (Sexton) .
The fact that one player is the greatest (Murray) and the other arguably the greatest in their positions for Ireland ever, and also world-class until recently, probably affected the managements' mind-sets.
In addition, there is a drop-off to the next level of players in both positions - but you don't close it by persisting with fading greats.
At 9, the treatment of Cooney has been simply ridiculous by both Joe and Farrell. The fact that Sexton probably would not like a Petit General (other than Murray) inside him probably also did for Cooney, so far.
At 10 we have had the different Jackson and Carbery issues, but right across 2020 (admittedly a disrupted, unconventional year) we had chances to mix things up more, to roll the dice, since RWC ended with Carbery banjaxed, Carty jettisoned and Sexton 34 and 1/2 yo, but Farrell wasn't strong enough either to take the Captaincy off Johnny or move him, aged 35!, to the finisher role as #22. Leo was also wrong to leave the Leinster captaincy with Johnny this season.
Farrell and Leo are supposed to be strong characters, but they both looked the other way on Johnny's Captaincy, no coincidence. Farrell also hasn't been taken to our hearts yet so he would be careful as an Englishman as regards demoting an Irish sporting icon.
What is it that led to Johnny holding all the cards aged 35? I have no doubt that Johnny's legendary stubborn nature has become toxic as he resists the fading of the light while also setting his sites on the Lions Tour #3,100 Irish Caps (he now needs to tour with Ireland in the Summer or play in the AIs to get there), more Silverware & his legacy. If he had been demoted and/or dropped, he would stink the place out.
How else do we explain where we are with 35 yo King Johnny as Captain of everything and messrs Burns and Byrne (15 caps between them, mainly as benchers) hoping to paper over the cracks on Sunday with 6 caps combined in our pair of 9s?
We are in a similar pickle at loosehead and hooker. In fairness at loosehead, nobody saw Jack Mc's decline coming so quickly or Killer's injuries, but why are we back to Ed Byrne over Eric O'Sullivan already? At hooker we held on to Best for far too long and we have backed off Ronan Kelleher far too quickly. We need to get Dan Sheehan through at Leinster asap so he can join the Irish ranks.
Sexton and Murray have lots to offer for another year (Sexton) or two (Murray) as finishers in the #21 and #22 shirts for club and country, based on match-by-match form. If either of them can't fill that role gracefully then they should be permanently retired.
Sexton sucking up all the Tier 1 starting minutes and Captaincy roles also stunts other players, future-Captains and squads from their natural and necessary development. Our playing style cannot evolve while he is the starter and, because of his domineering nature, neither squad's culture can evolve properly while Johnny reigns.
This has been a slow car crash that's now in it's 3rd season. A number of people, also his admirers over the years, have said to me that they would now just prefer if Sexton retired at the end of the season. I agree.
Again, I have great regard and memories for 2 of the all-time Irish greats, both world class in their day. But the needs of the team that represents this island supersedes those of individual players and the longer we delay the longer the rebuild will be.