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‘Andy’s A Special Coach’ – Sexton On RTÉ Award Winner Farrell

‘Andy’s A Special Coach’ – Sexton On RTÉ Award Winner Farrell

This year saw Andy Farrell's Ireland team set a new national record of 17 consecutive Test wins and become Grand Slam champions for the first time since 2018 ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The week that Andy Farrell’s new long-term contract with the IRFU was announced has ended with him being chosen as the RTÉ Sport Manager of the Year.

Farrell, who will continue as Ireland head coach up until the end of the 2027 Rugby World Cup, beat off stiff competition from the likes of Limerick hurling manager John Kiely and La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara to win the prestigious RTÉ award.

He is only the second rugby winner of the RTÉ Sport Manager of the Year honour. His predecessor in the Ireland role, Joe Schmidt, was presented with the award in 2014 for guiding the team to the Six Nations title that year.

A number of injuries, most notably away to Scotland, failed to derail Farrell’s men from Grand Slam and Triple Crown glory on home soil back in March.

October’s gut-wrenching Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand was only an eighth loss for Ireland in 43 Tests under the former dual-code international.

The reigning World Rugby Coach of the Year has a winning rate of 81.4% and has given debuts to 33 players since his first game in charge in 2020, including Ciaran Frawley, Tom Stewart and Calvin Nash this year.

Showing the consistent heights he had reached with the team, he was nominated for the award last year too when Ireland won their first ever Test series in New Zealand, reached the top of the World Rugby rankings, and beat both South Africa and Australia at the Aviva Stadium.

With Farrell unable to attend tonight’s ceremony in RTÉ’s Studio 4, recently-retired Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton received the award on his behalf. He spoke about his admiration for the Wigan man and his hopes for the team’s future, saying:

Hopefully Andy can take the team back to the top, back to the top of the world rankings and then hopefully make it count in four years’ time (at the World Cup).

“He’s a special guy, a special manager, a special coach. I’ve not really seen a manager tick all the boxes like he does, so thankfully Ireland have him for the next four years, and hopefully he’ll be put in charge of the Lions (in 2025) as well.”

Sexton himself was a nominee for the RTÉ Sport Sportsperson of the Year award, losing out to back-to-back World champion gymnast Rhys McClenaghan. He spoke beforehand and gave his reflections on 2023, his 17th and final year as a professional rugby player.

“It’s very hard to sum it up,” admitted the much-decorated out-half. “Everything we did over the last four years was to get us to the World Cup and to achieve on the world stage, that’s what our goal always was.

“All the special things that we did in terms of winning the series in New Zealand, and a Grand Slam, was only to get us to the World Cup. So we’re gutted that we didn’t do it. It will be a long time leaving us, I reckon.

“I know the lads will be in a great position again in four years’ time to go and do it. Great coaches, and Andy’s signed up now which is amazing news. I’m sure they’ll go on and achieve great things now.”

Sexton describing winning the Grand Slam at the Aviva Stadium as the ‘most special day’ of his career, as he captained Ireland to only their fourth ever clean sweep in Men’s Five or Six Nations Championship history.

“To captain your country to a Grand Slam at home, with all your family and friends (there), such a special group of players and management. We had some great days after it, like the Limerick boys were saying there.

“They are the days you’ll miss the most. Again, a very, very special day, and it was all with the World Cup in mind and spring-boarding us into that.”

His final tournament in the green jersey, the World Cup in France, showcased the special connection between the national team and the supporters, as thousands of Ireland fans packed out the stadiums in Bordeaux, Nantes, and most memorably Paris.

Praising the support they received throughout the campaign, Sexton added: “The stadiums, but we had heard all the stories from back here as well. We got videos sent to us, and Andy tapped into it a bit.

“The bus journeys on the way to the stadiums were probably the most special times. There were hundreds of thousands of Irish in all the cities we were.

“I remember getting a text from my brother before the New Zealand game and he just said, ‘wait until you see the city…’. He wasn’t wrong, there were just hundreds of thousands everywhere. So it was very, very special for us.”

Other rugby nominees on the night were Ireland Under-20 star Brian Gleeson, Munster’s BKT United Rugby Championship-winning team, and Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning side.

Gleeson was in the Young Sportsperson of the Year category which was won by Republic of Ireland striker Evan Ferguson, while the Team of the Year award was presented to the Limerick hurlers following their fourth All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship title in-a-row.

Former sprinter Jason Smyth, whose stellar track career included six Paralympic gold medals and eight World Championship titles, was inducted into the RTÉ Sport Hall of Fame.

The award winners were selected by an independent panel of expert judges from across the Irish sporting media and performance world.