Cheika determined to go out on a high
May 28, 2010
Can Leinster coach Michael Cheika leave the province on a winning note? © PA Photos
Saturday's Magners League Grand Final will decide Michael Cheika's legacy at Leinster.
The Australian will coach the Dublin club for the last time in competition before crossing the Channel for a new life at Stade Francais. His departure is bitter-sweet for a side that have flourished after it had lost some of its lustre in the early part of last decade.
Cheika is seeking his second domestic league title and should Leinster beat the Ospreys at the RDS, he will boast a fair bit of silverware, including last year's Heineken Cup (Leinster were knocked out in the semi-finals by this season's champions Toulouse). Recently he spoke about his departure with ESPN SportsCenter and why he wants to leave a lasting legacy at the club where he has spent the past five years.
"At Leinster, I was the right person in the right place at the right time because realistically I didn't have the CV or the credentials to take this team," he said. "They took a gamble and it worked out. You have to pay respect to the opportunity that you're given and the opportunity that they've given me here I want to pay them back in spades."
Cheika arrived in Dublin with little high-profile coaching experience behind him. A No.8 who played across France and Italy and in Australia - to U21 representative level, he cut his coaching teeth in Livorno. He took over from Declan Kidney after coaching at Randwick in Sydney.
"David Campese asked me if I wanted to coach a team in Italy that he used to play for and one thing led to another," he said. "I went back home to coach and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed having the interaction with players and coaches more than at the time when I was a player."
He comes across as a player's coach with fellow Australian and Leinster and Scotland lock Nathan Hines and Leinster captain Leo Cullen telling ESPN SportsCenter that Cheika's influence has been a defining factor in the Dublin's club's success over the past five years.
"Cheiks is one of those guys who's really straight up, straightforward, tells you what he wants," Hines said. "As a player, it's one of the qualities you want from a coach. He's not afraid to step on toes if he has to to get the best for the team. If you're playing well he'll tell you, and if you're not playing well he'll tell you that as well. I think that is one of his best qualities.
"As a player you know if you haven't playing well or you're not doing something right, he won't yell at you or anything but he'll say you should be doing this, and the guys buy into that - everything is open and honest."
"I think when he came over [from Sydney] the organisation was not in a great place," Cullen said. "He's brought a real level of desire and work ethic to the squad. He approached me when I was in England about coming back and now this is my third year. He's been great to work under and I think he's done some really, really good things for the organisation."
Cullen says that despite Cheika's lack of experience, the qualities he has instilled in Leinster have made for a successful side. "It's his desire and hunger to be a success," Cullen said. "He has a huge appetite for work and that's infectious. I think teams reflect coaches' personalities in many ways and he's created a real desire to be successful because he craves it so much himself."
Typically Cheika is modest about taking all the credit for a side that during his tenure have reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals three times including winning the tournament in 2009, and won the Celtic League in 2008 while finishing runners-up in 2006.
"It's about establishing a good environment, giving [the players] ownership and responsibility," he said. "Personally I think coaches are overrated. I think players make the team. They bring the standard and culture because only they can create it. We can give them an environment and a bit of a guide. You'll see a coach go to a team and they'll be hopeless and then he'll go to another and they'll be great. Maybe it's the interaction of the coach with the players and how that blends together.
"We're got a great playing staff and great coaching staff and they are all pumped by the one objective and that's to be successful and have a winning culture that we can be proud of and pass down to our players and supporters and the next generation that comes through.
Leinster will swap an Australian for a New Zealander in Joe Schmidt from Clermont next season and Cheika believes it is the time for someone else to take the reins. "He's probably a bit different to me and I think it's probably the right time for that," Cheika said. "He's probably a bit calmer and well organised.
"The idea was to create something that's going to win trophies but also to create something that's constant so in five years time I can come back and sit in the stands at the RDS and be proud that I was part of that club. It's been a massive part of my life and it's quite strange that it's coming to an end. It's been a brilliant experience and I've learnt so, so much."
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