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Eddie's dignified exit

By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport

It was no surprise that Ireland rugby coach Eddie O'Sullivan found it in his heart to step down from a role he has held with esteem since 2001.

Depart Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan in happier times as Ireland's most successful coach
Throwing in the towel is too strong a phrase to use for Ireland's most successful coach in history.

O'Sullivan is not normally a quitter. But a poor Six Nations quickly followed a disastrous World Cup, saw him walk away with his dignity intact.

His record speaks for itself having won 50 of his 78 games in charge.

Before the World Cup, O'Sullivan was surprisingly handed a new four-year contract by the IRFU. But let's face it, if somebody gave you a deal that would bring in 1m, would you accept it?

However, while the IRFU has made many gaffes over the years, they were not stupid enough not to have their backs well covered by small print in O'Sullivan's contract.

That was the case and it is believed that he will walk away with a performance-linked pay-out worth near 500,000.

It was thought that he would be forced to resign when the IRFU held a Six Nations review sometime in the near future.

But O'Sullivan moved quicker than expected and after banging heads with the IRFU and the respective legal teams, a deal was cut for him to go with his head held high.

Born: Nov 1958
Played for: Ireland A, Munster, Garryowen
Coached: Ireland, Connacht, Blackrock Buccaneers, US Eagles, Ireland U21
Ireland: P 78 W 50 L 28

O'Sullivan, a winger in his playing days for Munster, had successful coaching tenures with club teams Blackrock and Buccaneers before taking Connacht to a new level.

He also coached the Ireland U-21 side to their first-ever Grand Slam in 1995.

He moved to the United States in 1998 after Connacht failed to provide a sustained future, and he coached the US Eagles during the 1999 World Cup.

O'Sullivan took over from Warren Gatland before the start of the 2002 Six Nations campaign and immediately things began to fall into place with a record-breaking 54-10 win over Wales at Lansdowne Road.

As assistant to Gatland soon after the 1999 World Cup, O'Sullivan was thought to be the man who began Ireland's revolution before taking over as head coach.

While he guided Ireland to three Triple Crowns in four years, O'Sullivan failed to take them to the next level, twice failing to land the elusive Grand Slam, notably last year when a late Vincent Clerc try saw France snatch victory at Croke Park

O'Sullivan's overall record in the Six Nations is impressive, winning 24 of his 35 games as Ireland finishing runners-up four times in his seven campaigns, and third twice.

This season's fourth-place finish was the worst under O'Sullivan's control, and the first time Ireland have not finished in the top three since the Six Nations began in 2000.

They have now slipped to eighth in the IRB rankings after enjoying the heady heights of second prior to the start of the 2003 World Cup.

Eddie O'Sullivan
O'Sullivan enjoying the adulation after defeating England

O'Sullivan had assembled a core of management back-up with Niall O'Donovan (forwards coach), Mark Tainton (kicking), Mick McGurn (conditioning) Graeme Steadman (defence), Brian McLaughlin (skills) all having a positive input.

The one fault that is part of the O'Sullivan make-up is that his man management at times was a little awry. The more pressure he was put under, the more he withdrew into a shell.

His backroom team also appear to be moving on. McGurn was interviewed for the post of fitness coach of the All Blacks early on Thursday morning while McLaughlin is returning to his teaching post at a Belfast school.

There have been more highs than lows since he took over the Irish reins. He was one of the most accomplished and respected coaches in world rugby.

The highs included wins over Australia (twice) and South Africa (twice) as well as four successive victories over England. The piece de resistance was that record 43-13 win at Croke Park last season.

That, however, was a false dawn. Ireland travelled to the World Cup in France with an inflated reputation that was quickly deflated.

But close skirmishes with Namibia, Georgia and defeats at the hands of Argentina and France saw them fail to make it out of the group stages for the first time.

O'Sullivan was not solely to blame. Some of his top-line players just failed to ignite.

That was the start of the end, and when Ireland only managed to beat Italy and Scotland in the Six Nations, his time was up.

Ireland need a new voice, fresh ideas, a different approach to move things on, even though O'Sullivan still may the best coach in Ireland.

He will not be without a job for long, once he takes a well-earned sabbatical from the media hounds.

Some of the comments made about O'Sullivan were derogatory and very personal, with agendas set well in advance of anything that happened on the field of play.

But that was the nature of a coach's job in Ireland and he knew it. He lived for his job, rarely taking a holiday, and slept no more than a few hours each night as he pored over videos of opposition sides.

O'Sullivan is also a noted motivational speaker for big business.

But one hopes that he will not be lost to rugby completely. He is too good for that to happen.

see also
O'Sullivan's career
20 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Who now for Ireland?
20 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union

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