Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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Ireland draft in high-performance coach Gary Keegan to work on mental skills
Keegan was a key figure in the transformation of Irish boxing.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Andy Farrell has revealed that they have drafted in high-performance coach Gary Keegan to work on their mental skills this autumn.

The IRFU’s review into last year’s disastrous World Cup campaign found that Irish players had suffered from “performance anxiety” at the tournament in Japan.

Long-serving mental skills specialist Enda McNulty parted ways with Ireland in the wake of that tournament but Farrell, who took over from Joe Schmidt after the World Cup, has now called in the highly-regarded Keegan to work with his players.

Keegan was previously a major influence in the transformation of Irish boxing, helping to drive it towards to big successes at the Olympics.

He has worked with hurling and football teams, as well as with Leinster Rugby. The experienced Keegan is now part of the IRFU’s National Professional Games Board and also chairs Cricket Ireland’s High Performance Advisory Group.

Questions continue to be raised about Ireland’s confidence and mental skills in the wake of their dire second-half performance against Georgia last weekend when they failed to pull clear of the visitors in Dublin.

But Farrell says Ireland have been working on his side of their game with Keegan, while former Ireland team manager Mick Kearney – who left that role in 2016 – has also been helping players to deal with pressures outside of rugby, having come back in during the 2020 Six Nations.

“Gary has been with us for some weeks now and he has been doing a tremendous job, so that process has started,” said Farrell.

“Mick was obviously here in previous years as the manager but he is there as a mentor for many of the players as well.

andy-farrell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Andy Farrell's Ireland have drafted in Keegan. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“A lot of our players, it isn’t just the stress of a match week. For a lot of our players, it isn’t just the stress of a match week, they are dealing with life outside of rugby that can build up in a different manner.

“Mick helps massively with mentors for players outside of rugby. With Gary and Mick, we are well on our way to starting something there that will be a big help in the future.

“Gary’s mental skills as far as how that translates to performance is second to none and his whole connection piece in bringing the whole squad and the management into a place together is a big part of his remit.

“Stress comes from people wanting to put their best foot forward when they are given the opportunity. How do you deal with that? That’s something we can help from the outside, to help them along with that stress. That’s international football, isn’t it? That’s why it’s so different and why everyone wants to be a part of it.”

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Ireland hooker Rob Herring says he and his team-mates have enjoyed Keegan’s input over recent weeks.

“It’s been good,” said Herring. “It’s something you probably hear a lot – trying to find an edge mentally and just to change things up.

“I guess it’s good to get another person’s insight into how we’re doing in camp and some of the things he has picked up, what we can improve and what we’re doing well.

“Individually, we’re connecting with him and he’s just looking at what your routine is and where you can make more improvements.

“It’s nothing major, just small things he’s noticing or where we can improve. Ultimately, everything you do individually adds up towards a better team performance. That’s the main thing we gain out of it.”

mick-kearney Colm O'Neill / INPHO Former team manager Mick Kearney has been mentoring Ireland players. Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Farrell’s Ireland will need to be mentally clear and sharp for this weekend’s Autumn Nations Cup third-place play-off clash with Scotland in Dublin.

With Ireland having struggled in the second half against Georgia, the Scots will be eyeing their first away win in Dublin since 2010.

While Farrell noted Scotland’s improvements in 2020, he underlined his belief that Ireland will deliver a “big performance” this weekend and welcomed the return of captain and out-half Johnny Sexton.

“Johnny coming back from a hamstring injury is a big boost for the lads,” said Farrell. “He’s our captain and has been missing for a couple of weeks, although he has been working unbelievably hard in the background to make his presence felt.

“He has been ahead of schedule, chomping at the bit, and he’s ready to go.

“He brings a feeling to the group that makes everyone feel right and ready to go for a big match at the weekend.”

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey preview Ireland-Scotland, chat Ben Healy and Johnny Sexton’s futures, and discuss Argentina’s shocking handling of the racism storm involving their captain:

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