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BACK IN THE DISTANT PAST, when the reputation of Irish boxing was on the ropes, Garry Keegan took a piece of chalk, knelt and drew a line in the middle of the gym.
Like the best coaches, he then paused for a dramatic effect and stared straight into the eyes of a collection of boxers lined up against the gym wall, a bit like the poster image of The Usual Suspects.
They could either stay where they were – literally stand still and go nowhere in their career; or they could devote themselves entirely to their trade.
They crossed the border, three of them medalized in Beijing and Paddy Barnes doubled up to become a two-time Olympic champion in London. By then, the Irish boxing program had become the epitome of over-fulfillment.
In 2012, Keegan moved from his role as a high-performance boxing operator to head of the Irish Institute of Sport, a position he held until 2016.
Significantly, 2016 was also the year in which Annalize Murphy won her sailing silver medal in Rio. Also the year Keegan was fully anchored in Jim Gavin’s Dublin setup. While the five-in-a-row was primarily Gavin’s performance, Keegan is featured in the credits.
Better again in 2019, he was also the first coach in history to gain a foothold in two All-Ireland winning camps: The Tipp-Hurler used his expertise on the nights when he was free from the dubs. We should also mention the work he did with Leo Cullen’s Leinster in 2017-18. You may remember the year they won the Pro14 / Champions Cup doubles.
« High-performance sport is about solving problems better than your competitor, » Keegan said earlier this year in an interview with Denis Walsh of the Sunday Times. « So you have to love the problem. You can take care of things, you have to drive the elephant into the room. So we don’t go on eggshells, we collapse and try to find out: « What is it about? » Last year the fiver in Dublin was never the elephant in the room with Dublin. The elephant was the sound that began to infiltrate. ”
Keegan worked with Dublin during their five-time success.
Source: James Crombie / INPHO
In the last few weeks he has only entered another room this time, in which there is not only an elephant, but a herd.
Joe Schmidt’s shadow is big. Questions were also asked about their attack, defense, and ability to transfer the game schedule from the training ground to match day. We haven’t even mentioned the mental issues with the World Cup quarter-finals. In the short term, they need to learn how to play against Scotland, a team they’ve routinely beaten since 2017 but who value their chances of a surprise today.
« I had some one-on-one conversations with him and found him very interesting, very helpful, » said Bundee Aki, the Irish center. “When you talk to him, he has punched a few boxing kicks just to try to explain things. Rugby always has a physical side, but also a mental side.
“The players need to feel as though they are mentally very clear about what they need to do and try to block out any outside noise as much as possible and focus on what’s most important. ”
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Bundee Aki insists that the camp in Ireland is happy.
Source: Dan Sheridan / INPHO
However, it is clear from his previous experiences with Dublin, Tipp, and Leinster which method Keegan used. He’s not afraid to be open and show a vulnerability of himself in order to gain the trust of the players.
« I’m pretty tough with the people I work with, » he said in this interview with the Sunday Times. « I’m not going to run around in circles with people. I expect them to take responsibility and apply the advice to their practice. I’m tough with people about the feedback I sometimes give them, but they know where it’s coming from.
« I am not needy. I do not need that. I want to be there. I want to have an impact on the person I work with or the group. My performance is important to me so that I don’t let someone else or another group drag my performance down. I know the kind of people I can help. I am in no way trying to be someone’s savior, but I need to be very conscious of the people I work with because I want to be successful. I am very ambitious to make a difference. If I don’t make a difference, I won’t hang out. ”
It will be fascinating to see how long he’ll hang around, because since the end of 2018 the Irish rugby team has experienced a sporting recession, the form of which only collapsed last year by Joe Schmidt and then became fair bad in Andy Farrell’s first season.
Ireland’s form fell at the 2019 World Cup.
Source: Dan Sheridan / INPHO
Aki is already a convert. « It just gives a different perspective on how you do things, things you may not have thought of while preparing for a game, » said the Connacht Center. “It might be something small, but when he talks about it or talks about it, it just makes you think a little more and inspire you to do the things he says and see how it goes. ”
« Top athletes, » said Keegan in Damian Lawlor’s book « When the world stops looking, » « are very much driven by the group’s performance. This becomes their environment and learning to contain this energy can be a very intense thing as all faults in this room are public. People see and watch everything and finding a better self is a constant challenge for the athlete. ”
The challenge for Aki and Ireland today is to find a better performance and reproduce their shape for 2018. « One hundred percent, I believe in this group of players and this coaching team to be able to do that, » said Aki.
“It was amazing how the guys could express themselves here off the field and on the field. I definitely have the confidence that we will get there at some point. You can’t jump there directly. Everyone wants it to be a perfect picture, but it’s a work in progress. ”
He doesn’t think Ireland is « too far away » to complete this work. “And I’m sure if we do that we’ll all clap us on the back and say how good we are.
« When we played here in New Zealand in 2018 and in Chicago in 2016, everyone patted us on the back and then everyone seemed to jump off the bus when we lost to them at the World Cup. But look, everyone in this group and on this team knows that we are more than capable of beating any other team. We are more than capable of getting where we need to go. ”
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Irish Rugby, Bundee Aki, Connacht Rugby, Rugby Union, Joe Schmidt
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