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Andy Farrell is a skilled strategist, analyst, and leader who excels at persevering through difficulties.
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Andy Farrell is a skilled strategist, analyst, and leader who excels at persevering through difficulties.

Ten minutes to play in the World Cup quarter-final last autumn, and Tadhg Beirne leaps to gather Rónan Kelleher’s throw; nine and 30 seconds, and Beirne, Kelleher and the rest of the Irish forwards are driving together towards New Zealand’s tryline; nine left exactly, and the All Black pack has split under the pressure, and Kelleher’s driving ahead and diving over the tryline, Conor Murray riding behind him, pushing him on into Jordie Barrett’s tackle. As the three of them go down to the ground, Barrett grips Kelleher’s midriff, pulls him up, away from the turf, and flips him around just before he can get the ball down.

After reviewing the footage, it was clear that Kelleher was extremely close to scoring a try, giving Ireland a narrow lead and a chance to add points with a conversion. Unfortunately, this was their last real opportunity and it slipped away. The final score was 28-24, with Ireland falling short by just four points. It’s astonishing that four years of hard work boiled down to a mere blade of grass. This has been a recurring theme for Ireland, who have reached the World Cup quarter-finals eight times but have never been able to advance further. Their losses have come in various ways, including a heartbreaking 19-18 defeat by Australia in 1991 when Michael Lynagh secured a try in the corner, and a crushing 46-14 defeat by New Zealand in 2019, where the All Blacks scored seven tries against them.

In 2023, this particular event was expected to be the most difficult. There is a saying that Sigmund Freud considered the Irish to be the only people who cannot be analyzed, but a game like this, after a string of losses, would be enough to cause anyone emotional distress. Ireland’s player Andrew Porter has discussed this multiple times. “I have experienced sleepless nights, replaying the game in my mind. We were so close and that’s what made it so devastating,” Porter stated. He even began to doubt if he was suitable for a career in professional rugby.

Losing can have that effect on a person. Consider France as an example. They had dedicated themselves to winning the tournament and spent four years competing with Ireland for the top spot in world rankings. However, just one day after, they suffered a defeat by a penalty kick in the 69th minute during their match in South Africa. Now, five months later, they are struggling in the Six Nations championship.

What about the Irish team? They have defeated France 38-17, Italy 36-0, and Wales 31-7, with 15 tries scored and only three conceded. Only one other Six Nations team has achieved three consecutive 20-point victories like this, which was England when they won the World Cup in 2001 and 2003. Farrell’s team is only two games away, with high odds of winning the first game, from accomplishing something even Martin Johnson’s England never did – winning back-to-back grand slams. They are performing even better than before, with a dominant lead over the rest of the teams, similar to the gap between Ireland and the Irish Sea.

Andy Farrell confidently stated the day before his team triumphed over France in Marseille that his team does not experience hangovers. Instead, they are aware of their current standing and their goals for the future. He also made it clear that any potential hangover from a defeat would be far too long-lasting.

Ireland’s dejected players are comforted by their friends and family after the New Zealand defeatView image in fullscreen

Much is spoken of Farrell’s accomplishments during his time as a player – numerous league championships and Challenge Cups, two Man of Steel awards, and even the prestigious Golden Boot. However, not much attention is given to the losses he experienced in between. Over the course of his 34 Test matches for Great Britain, Farrell led the team in 29 of them, but unfortunately ended up losing 20. His international career was primarily a lesson in dealing with defeat and disappointment, often at the hands of dominant teams like Australia and New Zealand. Among his most crushing losses were the two nerve-wracking final matches of the Ashes series in 1994 and 2001, as well as the Tri-Nations final in 2004.

According to almost all who played under him, Farrell was an exceptional leader and captain. He took on this responsibility at the young age of 21 and held it for eight years. Even after his departure, fellow player Adrian Morley still asked himself, “what would Andy do?” when trying to motivate the team after a loss. Farrell’s ability to manage his players has been crucial for Ireland’s success this season. While he is talented tactically and analytically, his recent portrayal of his skills and understanding of dealing with defeat come from years of personal experience.

Executing this feat is extremely difficult, as demonstrated by the experiences of coaches such as Fabien Galthié. Eddie O’Sullivan was fired after leading Ireland to a fourth-place finish in the Six Nations following their early elimination in the 2007 World Cup. Declan Kidney’s team achieved a grand slam in 2009 but suffered a steep decline after losing to Wales in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup, resulting in a fifth-place finish in the 2013 championship. Even Joe Schmidt’s team, previously ranked first in the world, took 18 months to recover after their defeat to Argentina in the 2015 quarter-finals, ultimately placing third in the following year’s championship.

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Porter, an upright individual, expressed concern about never being able to fully recover from the defeat to New Zealand. However, Farrell has no patience for such discussions, stating that he has already moved on since the beginning of this tournament. He does not believe in dwelling on the past. This year, at their first team meeting, they had a candid conversation about the loss. They recognized the importance of facing it as a team in order to move forward. According to Farrell, the loss highlighted their strengths and weaknesses, providing clarity on the improvements needed.

Andy Farrell, head coach of Ireland, looks on as players huddle up in training

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They made adjustments to their coaching system, added a couple of new players, and continued on. Farrell acknowledged that it’s not a completely fresh beginning due to their past experiences. They were determined not to completely start over because, as Farrell puts it, it hinders growth. The reality is that everyone faces defeat, even strong teams like Ireland. The distinction between exceptional teams and the rest lies in their response. As Farrell stated, “What’s important now is how you bounce back.”

Source: theguardian.com