Irish Connections: The coaches who have faced their own nation

Italy head coach Conor O'Shea will experience that when he takes on Ireland on Saturday in the Six Nations

Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland, Italy, 2004

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni with Italy in 2004 ©INPHO/Getty Images

"I'm Irish but come the day, it'll just be thinking about Italy and thinking about our performance."

That was Italy head coach Conor O'Shea at the launch of the 2017 Six Nations three weeks ago as he pondered the wave of emotions that will wash over him when he faces his home nation Ireland in Rome this Saturday.

The Limerick born former Leinster full back also added that: "Of course it's special and I'll have lots of friends and family around but Joe [Schmidt] probably had the same things when he was coaching [against] New Zealand.

"Ireland is my home. It's my country. It's all I ever dreamt of representing so I'm always going to be the proudest of Irish people."

Undoubtedly it will be an emotional occasion for O'Shea but emotions that will be parked in the build up to the match and the 80 minutes as professionalism and the task at hand takes over.

O'Shea isn't the first head coach or manager from Ireland to face their home nation. And the reverse has also happened on numerous occasions where an overseas head coach or manager leads Ireland into battle against their own country.

The aforementioned Joe Schmidt is a clear example. Born and bred in New Zealand, he became the first Ireland head coach to overcome the All Blacks, as they so famously did in Chicago last November. 

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen congratulates Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt after the game ©INPHO/Photosport/Andrew Cornaga

Warren Gatland got close to doing the very same in 2001 only to see Ireland fall to a 40-29 loss against his birth nation.

Former Ireland head coach Eddie O'Sullivan was in charge of USA at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, in a pool which featured Ireland. The US lost by just 12 points. Many of the Irish players on the opposite side were those the Cork native had previously coached. But while that was a little bit strange for him, emotion was kept in check: "I wouldn't say I have mixed emotions, playing against Ireland is not an emtoional thing for me. It feels a bit strange all right because I know many of those lads pretty well. But Saturday's not about me, it's about the American team." 

Former Ireland soccer manager and 1966 World Cup winner Jack Charlton achieved victory against his own nation of England at Euro 88 with Ray Houghton's header leading to a famous 1-0 win. He was also in charge for a 1-1 draw at Italia 90. And he was also manager for the abandoned Landsdowne Road head to head in 1995.

Giovanni Trapattoni also faced the prospect of managing against his native Italy - who he had also previously coached - more than once. The most high profile fixture was at Euro 2012 when Ireland fell to a 2-0 loss.

But in previous encounters, Trap had led Ireland to two creditable draws against the Azzurri in their 2010 World Cup qualifying group - a late Robbie Keane goal in Bari salvaged a 1-1 draw and then a 2-2 home draw meant Ireland were unbeaten in the group.

Trap hadn't given much leeway towards talk of emotion when asked about his feelings prior to the Bari match: "I have had many other victories. It's a very important game for our qualification. I am the Ireland coach and I want to win. But it's all about our qualification." 

Of course, the prospect of facing one's own nation is not just related to Irish cases with numerous examples from across the globe and at major tournaments.