The AIL can help Munster compete with the Leinster schools conveyor belt, says retired Munster hooker Mike Sherry.
Now assistant coach at Garryowen, where he works with the forwards, Sherry has seen first-hand the players that he believes would be well capable of making it in the professional game, given the right exposure to conditioning work and analysis.
Speaking with two more former Munster players Duncan Casey and Duncan Williams, on this week’s Irish Examiner Duncan & Duncan Rugby Podcast, Sherry said: “The AIL is such a resource for Munster. We don’t have 20 mini academies feeding into our Munster academy like Leinster do.
“We have maybe two or three schools that are competing with Leinster in terms of how they are preparing players. Munster players develop at a slower rate because they are not getting the gym, the analysis, the level of training at schools. Maybe when they are 22/23/24 they are at that level then.
“A bigger focus on it might stop this tide of Leinster producing all the players. There are players in Munster. They just need a chance to show it.”
Garryowen currently sit second in the AIL behind Cork Con, where Williams has played and coached since he finished with Munster. He believes too many talented players in the league have been are overlooked because they don’t fit a perceived template of a Munster player.
“I think sometimes if you don’t fit the profile in Munster, they just write you off. In the past, a fella with a load of tattoos or something, he doesn’t look like a stereotypical rugby player, so they write him off. How players are perceived, hairstyles, demeanour, maybe Leinster are more embracing in that way.”
And Williams argues that Munster are too quick to trial pros from elsewhere rather than give an AIL player the opportunity to step up.
“Munster have a habit of bringing in lads for pre-season based on a word-of-mouth reputation rather than seeing what they have done. We’ve all seen lads come in that, realistically, were never going to be able to make it.
“But there are players playing for Con every week, performing every week — why not bring them in and have a look? There are loads of lads in the AIL who are up to it.”
Casey argues it is wrong to compare a young Munster schoolboy with his Leinster counterpart, given their contrasting experiences.
"To compare them to guys who are coming out of secondary schools in Munster — particularly in Limerick, where Comp, Ardscoil, Munchin’s, Castletroy, are all public schools — the resources are far reduced.
"They are catering for other sports as well, they have a tight budget to start with.
"It’s hard to compare the physical condition of guys coming out of that environment versus people in a semi-pro environment for two or three years at the likes of Blackrock or Michael’s or one of the conveyor belts that are part of the production line for Leinster.
“You have guys that have talent, even at 22 or 23, 24, performing well for a team like Con, the highest standard of amateur rugby in the country, yet there is very little suggestion that if they can get into a professional environment they can kick on.
“It’s a massive resource for Munster. The schools can’t compete with Leinster and that’s not their fault.
"I think they need to reassess the way the schools and clubs interact.”
Sherry adds: "It's Munster's point of difference, the club game, the strength of it, the history of it, it underpinned the strength of the Munster team in the early 2000s. I hope it can get back to where it's really valued and plays an important role. I'm not saying it's ignored, it's not, but more can be done with it and I think everyone knows that. And I think Munster know that as well."