In December 2015 at Thomond Park, Leicester Tigers defeated Munster on a scoreline of 31 – 19 in a European Champions Cup group stage match. The story of the night, however, was the nightmare endured by Munster out-half, Ian Keatley.
The Munster 10 had a night to forget in all aspects. His general play was poor while his placed ball kicking was also sub-standard. Head coach Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley decided enough was enough and withdrew Keatley shortly before full time.
What happened next is what had a telling effect on the 30-year-old and those closest to him. As a dejected Keatley made his way down the tunnel in Thomond having been replaced by Rory Scannell, he was subject to a chorus of boos by the home fans. In an interview with the Sunday Independent, the Dubliner looked back on that rough period in his career, acknowledging fully that his poor form was not something he needed to be pointed out to him.
“I don’t need people booing me or telling me that I had a bad game, a player knows how he has done. All players go back and scrutinise the game but I understand they are fans who have paid in and are entitled to their opinions.
“The worst thing was talking to mom on the phone a day or two later, she broke down crying. I said, ‘Look mom, it’s fine, these things happen, I’ll bounce back’.”
In the interview with Marie Crowe, the former Connacht out-half goes on to explain how his “bounce back” wasn’t as easy as he would have hoped for. He said of the group of ‘supporters’ jeering him:
“It’s so personal. People will tell you it’s alright; deep down as a player you know yourself it’s not. It’s especially tough when you are trying your hardest. I got tweets saying, ‘Is Keatley not practising his place-kicking’, obviously I couldn’t work harder in training but people don’t see the hours, weeks, months and years that you put in. They just see you having bad moments in a game and judge you on that.”
Keatley proceeded to express the toll the jeering from his own fans took on him in his own personal life. His entire demeanour changed for the worst, so much so that at times he questioned his desire to continue as a Munster player.
“I wasn’t cracking jokes anymore; I wasn’t listening to music, I love listening to music. In the car, on the way in to training I’d have my radio off, I was constantly thinking. Weird things go through your head; I wondered, ‘Why am I putting myself through this?’.”
A few weeks after that Leicester Tiger’s game, as the dust had just about settled on the shameful behaviour of the Munster fans. (It must be noted that, although there was enough to make their feelings heard loud and clear, it was only a small portion of Munster fans booing Keatley). The out half came out fighting on Newstalk’s Off The Ball, putting those who turned on him in Thomond that night in the same bracket as the lowest of the low in society. When asked about the reaction to his eventual substitution, he responded:
“It’s terrible. I had to rewind it to see if I was seeing things.
There was a couple of people sniggering there, laughter. It’s absolutely unjustifiable.
If you are a supporter, that is a line you do not cross. It’s the lowest of the low.
The only thing that is lower is racism or sexual harassment. That is pathetic.”
Keatley has since moved on and found his confidence on and off the field again. In October of last year he became only the second player to score over 1,000 points for Munster, after only Ronan O’ Gara. He has picked himself off the canvas since going through that rough patch, allowing it to be a steep learning curve rather than a barrier to great performances for himself and Munster.
Aaron Ward, Pundit Arena
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