Declan Kidney’s substitution decisions have The Mole hearing footsteps, so to speak. With Kidney’s deserved reputation for inscrutability, and his über-questionable loyalty to some players, he’s the sort of coach that’d have you believing in conspiracy theories.
Maybe Rory Best – captain for the remainder of the tournament, lest we forget – was whipped off on 53 minutes because he was a slight injury worry during the week and is a vital player for next weekend’s showdown against the English. Maybe Eoin Reddan was protected for the same reason, with the added incentive of giving Tomás O’Leary some gametime to settle his nerves. Maybe it’s vital that O’Gara come on as outhalf and “see out the match” for the guts of half-an-hour. Maybe Mike McCarthy is only good enough for two minutes on the pitch.
However, the logic of Tomás O’Leary getting 27 minutes [at the expense of punchbag Eoin Reddan] and Mike McCarthy getting 2 minutes [at the expense of Deccie favourite Donncha O’Callaghan] escapes me. I can see the argument that O’Leary’s now our backup scrum-half and that he has to get up to speed somehow, but equally Mike McCarthy is now our backup second row and needs to get up to speed himself.
The difference between the players is that O’Leary has been getting little gametime for his club [16 games and only 6 starts, none of the latter coming in the Heineken Cup] and has been playing like a drain – many Irish fans would have him as probably only the fifth choice scrum-half on form in the country, behind Murray, Reddan, Boss and Marshall – whereas McCarthy has started 20 games [including all 6 HEC games Connacht have played] and has been playing very well for the last two seasons.
There’s less distance in form between McCarthy and O’Callaghan than there has been between Reddan and O’Leary.
The Mole is a pretty firm believer that there’s nothing O’Callaghan does on the pitch that Dan Tuohy or Donnacha Ryan can’t do, and that goes for Mike McCarthy too. Surely it’s better to have a fresh second-row on the park for the last 15-20 minutes in a home game, especially when there’s a fourth match in a row the following week, rather than flogging a guy for seventy-eight minutes and giving his replacement nothing but a token run-out.
I appreciate that I’m like a broken record on this one, but Declan Kidney has selected Donncha O’Callaghan more than any other player since he became Irish coach. He’s barely let anyone even challenge for his jersey, whether it be Leo Cullen, Donnacha Ryan, Dan Tuohy or Mike McCarthy. The idea that nobody can do the job but Donncha would seem to be absurd. You’re not looking at replacing Paul O’Connell or Stephen Ferris or Ronan O’Gara or Brian O’Driscoll – oh, wait a second: we’ve actually managed to have a go at doing that over the last couple of years, with Ryan coming in for O’Connell at the weekend, O’Brien coming in for Ferris last season, Sexton coming in for O’Gara [with some genuine competition between them] and Earls coming in for the injured Brian O’Driscoll.
Maybe none of those new guys are at the level of the players they’re replacing [although O’Brien had a better season at blindside last season than Ferris has had in his international career] but none of them have been an out-and-out disaster. What does that teach you? Build competitiveness in the squad. Allow players the platform to challenge for positions. Donnacha Ryan got his first Six Nations start and ran out Man of the Match … but he only got that start because O’Connell was forced out through injury.