You’d imagine that Declan Kidney actually talks to his players some of the time. Is that just me? Am I way off?
At 34 years old, Leo Cullen – never a central figure in Declan Kidney’s Irish set-up – is not just past his prime, but actively engaged on negotiating the downward slope of his career. By picking him in his 24-strong Six Nations squad, DK has kindly put in place a few flags for him to slalom around, just in case it was getting boring.
Saint Deccie has put him in the awkward position of having to turn down “the opportunity to appear for his country” – we all know that that was never going to happen – in order to take advantage of the HEC break and have elective surgery on both Achilles tendons. Leo has gone on record [in his recently-published autobiography, which arrived at Mole Towers courtesy of one Father Christmas] about his long-standing issues with the condition, and it’s unlikely/impossible – the Mole is definitely leaning towards the latter – that the Irish medical and S&C team weren’t aware of it.
It would have been very, very easy to announce that Cullen wasn’t available for selection due to injury, just like Brian O’Driscoll, Denis Leamy, Niall Ronan etc. While he might be a respected member of the Irish set-up because of his age and his success as captain of Leinster, he’s a peripheral figure in match-day terms, superseded on the sub’s bench by Donnacha Ryan at the World Cup, and falling down The Mole’s depth chart of Irish second rows [it doesn’t count for much, EXCEPT FOR BEING ACCURATE, DAMMIT!] due to excellent performances from Ryan, Ulster’s Dan Tuohy, Connacht’s Mike McCarthy, his own Leinster team-mate Devin Toner and Bath’s Ryan Caldwell. It shouldn’t go unsaid that his own drop-off in form has been noticeable in comparison, although it must in part be down to his calcified tendons.
The point is that Ireland don’t need him to play. He probably shouldn’t be anywhere near the team on form. Sometimes you need to make a clean break with aging players, and, to The Mole at least, this seems like one of those occasions.
Picking him in the squad, when it was announced earlier in the day that he was going to be absent for 8-10 weeks recuperating from surgery, is either mind-blowingly crap communication or else a weird little exercise in one upmanship from Kidney, i.e. forcing Cullen to make the decision in public as to whether he has career-extending surgery to benefit his Leinster career or puts it on hold to answer Ireland’s call [so to speak]. Either way, it’s p*ss-poor management – hooray!