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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Out with the dreaded Monday review, Andy Farrell's are 'fun'

Ireland’s new training base in Abbottstown has allowed for tweaks too.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

HAVE YOU HEARD that things in Ireland camp are little different under the new head coach?

Add Monday’s squad-wide analysis of the previous match to the lengthening list of changes and bright new dawns that Andy Farrell has brought about after taking over from Joe Schmidt – most of them seemingly based around everyone’s mood.

The word ‘dreaded’ became inextricably linked with the week-opening forensic review over Schmidt’s nine years with Leinster and Ireland. Most often, it was ‘dreaded’ in a positive way, players insisted they were happy to be driven on to better things by the lashings of Schmidt’s tongue.

In the wake of a close-run home win over Scotland, how did the video session to kick off this week go?

“Good fun, yeah,” says Conor Murray.

“If there’s a mistake there a serious point to it, but there’s a bit of craic about it, too. 

“People are competing against each other and there’s a bit of craic about that, too, so everything is quite open in our environment, which is really good and allows you to get on with the task in hand.”

The facilities at hand for Farrell at the new training base in the Sports Campus also allow for noticeable tweaks. Particularly when they have a run-out on the indoor pitch, overlooked as it is by the analysis suite, there is always a screen close-by for coaches to huddle players around without going far from the synthetic surface.

“Especially here in Abbottstown, it’s quite free-flowing. You have the TV there beside the indoor pitch, you can look at a few clips and turn round and rep something. Then come back to the video.

“A jog-through we had this morning was like that. A few clips, then turn around and work on whatever we had talked about. Then (in addition) we had the classroom (portion) as well.”

a-view-of-the-sport-ireland-national-indoor-arena New digs. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The changes are not so radical when it comes to team selection and Murray has reportedly succeeded in holding off the challenge of John Cooney for the number 9 shirt for a second week running with Grand Slam champions Wales bound for Dublin.

The pair were seated side-by-side for yesterday’s media duty and they stayed firmly on the same page of the script. Cooney took a philosophical stance on falling short of a start in this new era, Murray welcomed the pressure brought by Ulster star who was on a hard road to the top while his one-time U20 team-mate was dominating Lions Tests.

Cooney feigns a rueful smile when recounting how he was dropped after flinging a pass over Ian Madigan’s head during the 2009 U20 Six Nations. Murray seems to instinctively play the big brother role, jumping to Cooney’s defence with a quip about the Bristol 10’s height.

Happy families. Far removed from the O’Gara-Sexton rivalry that was coming to the boil in the same year these scrum-halves first came head to head.

“They’re two very different personalities,” Murray contends against the comparison.

john-cooney Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“You don’t have to try to create animosity. If you get along, you get along. You train as hard as you can.”

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No matter how many trees he’s pulled up during Ulster’s excellent season so far, Cooney insisted he is pleased by his progress when he steps back to look at the big picture. Murray has tried to use his rival’s form to drive his own game on.

“It’s clear and obvious with the season that John’s having that’s obviously going to cause a lot of ripples, a lot of chat, and that can be a big distraction.

“For me, it kind of narrows the focus, it motivates me to play as well as I can, to train as well as I can to put myself in the best position to get the nod at the weekend and stay in that jersey. That’s what everyone wants.

“We’re both very ambitious, we want to play, we want to start, we want to wear the no 9. But I think it’s a testament… Lukey (McGrath) is  involved as well and three of us, our relationships are really good. 

“There’s a lot of talk outside about the rivalry, et cetera. But when we come into Ireland camp, we’re genuinely trying to help each other. Whoever gets the nod at the weekend, I think there’s just a respect there.

To get into the Irish squad is one thing, and then you’re not gonna hide information from each other, you’re not gonna get up earlier and do extra sessions. It’s a really open environment, and the competitiveness is really open as well.”

“Whenever I’m in for a rep, you try to run it as best as you can, and then John or Luke goes in and tries to run it as best as they can too. 

“That the competitiveness at its peak, but there’s ways of handling that too, there’s ways of not letting it affect your relationships as well.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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