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'He's had an amazing impact' - Leinster prepare for next chapter as Dawson era nears end

Leo Cullen has thanked outgoing CEO Mick Dawson for the faith he has shown in him.

Outgoing Leinster CEO Mick Dawson.
Outgoing Leinster CEO Mick Dawson.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

FOLLOWING A RAFT of welcome contract extension announcements over the last couple of weeks, yesterday’s morning email from Leinster contained news which the province’s supporters will have greeted less enthusiastically. 

After a remarkable 21-year stint as Leinster Rugby CEO, Mick Dawson will step down from the role at the end of the season.

The IRFU have appointed international recruitment consultancy, Korn Ferry, to assist them with their search for Dawson’s successor, which is due to begin in the coming weeks. Whoever comes out on top will have big shoes to fill.

Since Dawson took on the job in 2001, Leinster have firmly established themselves as a powerhouse of European club rugby, winning four Champions Cups, one Challenge Cup and eight league titles. 

Current head coach Leo Cullen has had a front row seat for most of it across his time as a player and a coach at the province. 

“He’s been an amazing support for me personally,” Cullen says.

“I feel like he has backed me a lot. You always want to try to reward the faith that people place in you as well.

“When I was leaving school in 1996, the game had just gone professional and you’ve no aspirations to play professional rugby but then it starts to become professional, and you’re passing from the amateur era, and Mick is stepping in as CEO around that time as well.

“And even Leinster as a province, there’s the domestic side of the game which is amateur and the professional side, so he has to keep both sides moving forwards, while growing the revenue and commercial ends, keeping up with moves from different grounds and training venues.

So he’s been through it all really. The biggest strength is the relationships he forms, being able to keep everyone together. He’s had an amazing impact and he will be a huge loss for us. But he will be handing it over in reasonable shape. He’s been a great character and I’ve loved working with him.

“I’ve been through it all really with him. Starting as a player from school, going to England and then coming back. And then you think of Michael Cheika coaching at that stage, I’m probably a lot easier to deal with! He’s had to manage relationships with different coaches.

“But he’s a very supportive figure, understanding and he wants to help in any way he can without being in the way or difficult I guess. He has been an amazing support for me and I’ll miss him greatly.”

Turning back to matters on the pitch, Cullen also downplayed the loss of Andrew Porter ahead of some key fixtures in Leinster’s season.

The loosehead prop is set to miss up to eight weeks following ankle surgery, ruling him out of the Champions Cup double-header with Connacht as well as a series of URC interpros, although Cullen backed the player to trim a couple of weeks off that timeframe.

“Yeah, Andrew had been going well so it’s a loss,” Cullen continues.

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“Like, we just need to get the guys back and get them fit and well again and then just plough on with what we’ve got.

So I’d rather celebrate what we do have than worry about what we don’t. I’ll see obviously what Ireland do, it’s a good opportunity hopefully for Cian (Healy) that he gets some decent minutes under his belt now in the next couple of weeks.

“The guys who are in with us here, the two looseheads that played the last number of games, Peter Dooley, it was great to see him make his 100th appearance for Leinster at the weekend, some of his family were over at the game.

“His dad Jerry, he was a big coach down in Birr in Offaly and we talked to Mikey Milne about him. Ed Byrne as well who has stated a number of these games over the last few weeks. A good opportunity for these guys to step up and show what they can do.

“But Andrew has been going well. He’s so diligent at everything he does so we’ll be trying to keep the reins on him I’d imagine during his rehabilitation process because he’s good at pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, so I’m sure he’ll be back in quickish time so we’ll see how he goes over the next few weeks.”

Comedian Michael Fry is our special guest on this week’s episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness. Joining host Seán Burke, Eimear Considine and Murray Kinsella, he chats about his family’s rugby background and his short-lived playing days, before using his musical ear to rank the anthems of each Guinness Six Nations team. Click here to subscribe or listen below:


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Ciarán Kennedy

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