Jack O’Toole takes an in-depth look at the problems Munster currently face.
Timothy Pina, an American writer, author, poet and screenwriter, once said: “Everything will usually get worse before it gets better, but when it does get better… remember all who put you down and all who helped you up. Forgive but never forget. Let Karma take care of all the rest.”
Pina’s reflections serve as sound life advice for those that are struggling and going through tough and testing times. The premise is, that if you persevere and stay mentally strong, things will inevitably at some stage start to go your way. Unfortunately in sport, the same theories don’t always apply and in this instance Munster fans will be hoping that Karma is some kind of transcendent rugby guru that can come into Limerick and fix what is fast becoming an uncontrollable mess.
Here are just a few of Munster’s problems: a coach who is wildly out of his depth, a chief executive who has started to flounder after many great years of service and a playing squad that has become increasingly accepting of a culture of losing.
Dwindling attendances, millions in debt still owed for the redevelopment of Thomond Park, an increasingly frustrated supporter base, a lack of knockout stage European rugby, no trophy in over five years. These are all legitimate causes for concern – major red flags for any big club like Munster. Former England assistant Andy Farrell may help from a defensive and tactical viewpoint, but this writer strongly doubts he has any concrete answers to a lot of these genuine problems.
With no clear immediate solution in sight, the situation in the province is dire, and is only worsening as the most recent Ireland U-18 and U-20 Five and Six Nations squads had just ten out of a possible 56 players hailing from Munster, roughly just over 17% of the two playing squads. Munster trail both Ulster (19%) and Leinster (42%) when it comes to major underage representation but such is the state of affairs in the south that a lack of underage internationals is far from the province’s biggest problem.
Speaking on Sky Sports a number of months ago, former Munster and Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan called for a comprehensive review of the situation.
“I think this whole organisation needs to be dissected now and they need to look at the structure from the top to the bottom – including everyone – to figure out what’s gone wrong.”
CEO Garrett Fitzgerald claims that the club undergo constant review and have made a lot of changes over the last number of years, but have they really worked? What has improved? The question is not so much what has gone wrong, but what has gone right?
The JJ Hanrahan situation was an unequivocal and unacceptable disaster. The statement reminding fans to respect players and officials was a big PR mistake, the failure to secure Irish-born Wallabies captain Stephen Moore, although vetoed by the IRFU, was another big miss. The province also, reportedly, at no stage reached out to outgoing Harlequins director Conor O’Shea about a directors position at the club.
The one man, above nearly everyone else available in world rugby, who is on great terms with both Fitzgerald and coach Anthony Foley, was never contacted. O’Shea, who was born in Limerick and has a stellar reputation as one of the best administrators and directors in sport, was not contacted once by a club who so desperately need his services.
The only real positives to come out of Munster this season has been the retention of Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls. CJ Stander has made the leap successfully to international rugby and Billy Holland has improved immensely, but neither player has been able to truly overcome what are systemic and deep rooted issues. What player could?
Even more worryingly were Foley’s comments after the Connacht defeat last weekend, in which Munster were soundly beaten 35-14 at the Galway Sportsgrounds.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Foley said (via The42.ie):
“We were up here to win the game. We went about that, I thought, in the right manner for a period of the game and then we obviously lost our way.
“Some of that was in our control, some of it wasn’t in our control. From that point of view, we need to look at Edinburgh and make sure we go about that in the right manner as well.
“All our games for the last number of weeks have been treated as cup finals in terms of how we prepare and how we go about it. It’s important that our mindset is very similar and hopefully we get a rub of the green.”
If that is what Foley calls ‘cup final’ preparation then it just shows the gravity of the problem. If that is the effort and the intensity and the fight that Munster would show in a cup final, when then it may be many, many years before we see the Red Army get anywhere near a Champions Cup final.
Furthermore, a ‘rub of the green’ may explain a yellow card here or there but it doesn’t account for what has been an anaemic and feeble backline all season nor does it explain a 21-point difference at a ground they’ve never previously lost at.
The state of affairs can be sadly summed up in a few tweets.
increasing debt, decreasing attendance, amateur coaches, no European knockout rugby in 2 yrs, no trophy in 5. Fitzgerald HAS to go #Munster
— Kevin Twomey (@KevinDTwomey) April 16, 2016
I’ve seen good Munster teams & bad Munster teams, but until this season I never saw a Munster team that just didn’t care & gave up #ConVMun
— David Cahill (@docathail) April 16, 2016
Unfortunate, sad and above all else, the truth.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena
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