I have to see anger this week. I have to. Otherwise what we know and love, what we have identified with, what Munster almost trademarked, is no more, writes Ronan O’Gara
THERE we were, seven of us, all draped in Munster red. Feeling fairly pleased with myself, family in tow, Racing’s 34-10 victory over Glasgow a few miles away, a few hours since, still in the rear-view mirror.
Despite all that, I’ve seldom had a more depressing evening than last Saturday in the Stade Jean Bouin. Looking around me for signs of something... it hurt so bad.
The numbers aren’t as big but the Munster crowd still made some amount of noise.
But what lingered afterwards was the French crowd baiting us, singing ‘Mais ils sont ou Les Irlandais (Where are the Irish?). My God, if ever I needed motivation to come back to France someday with Munster, that was it. I won’t forget that for a while.
Mike Prendergast was with me, a great rugby brain. Neither of us made sense of it. I went down to the Munster dressing-room to the players and the management afterwards.
I wanted to. Brought in three of the boys with me. It was horrible. But people have short memories too.
Our team were in that hole as well. We had days like that and if there is any solace from this situation, Axel will find it in that fact. Every Munster team has suffered like this.
That should be small consolation, but for the player it just feels as if their head is being held below water and they can’t breathe.
That’s what happens when you play for Munster because people care.
And that’s a great team to play for.
I’m not really sure what bringing Andy Farrell in two days a week — if accurately reported —- is going to achieve for Munster. Two days? By the time he comes in, he’ll be getting ready to go again.
One day readjusting, one day progress, then? Trust me, club rugby ain’t easy, You need to be on the road, 12 hours a day, every day to make the required impact.
It’s taken us two years in Racing to begin to turn things around. And we’re only getting started.
For sure now, there’s going to be more short-term pain in Munster. The brutal reality of professional sport is that if you have under-performing players in pivotal positions, you are going to suffer.
Stade Francais were there for the taking, but as we have alluded to before in these pages, when the scoreboard isn’t ticking over, subconsciously you are not getting as much from the forwards because they feel there is no end product to their grunt and graft.
All risk, little reward. It’s grand in one game, but when that’s happening consecutively or in four out of five games, these guys are not robots, they are human and they’re asking, ‘why am I doing this’?
As the playmaker and the kicker, what Ian Keatley is experiencing is horrendous. He has the past and the future haunting him. Someone said that you only have regrets about the past and fears about the future, so work in the now.
He needs to draw a line under this week and reboot, because he’s crucial to whatever Munster can achieve. JJ Hanrahan, left — Munster didn’t let him go.
If Axel could have one negotiation back, it might be that one, but at that stage Keatley was in sparkling form and the coach is obviously thinking ‘this guy is going to be my starting 10. If my second choice doesn’t want to be here, why would I hold him?’
It wasn’t an unreasonable stance. Axel and his players must create their own storylines. Peter O’Mahony has been missing since Paulie left but the first place you look for leadership is in the mirror.
The old chestnut. A debate either raging or simmering since 2000. One training base or two? When Munster under-perform it’s a problem, when we were winning, it was never mentioned.
For me, it’s essential for the squad to be together in one location for pre-season — after that it’s not such an issue.
You get the bulk of your collective work done in pre-season period. When you need five pitch sessions together, one base is absolutely crucial.
It isn’t as important when games begin, because you play on a Saturday, Sunday is a rest day, Monday is a review, a light session. Tuesday would be a session, Wednesday off, Thursday a session, Friday off.
But the province has taken a decision to choose Limerick as its base. It was inevitable Cork, in particular, Kerry and Waterford would feel somewhat disenfranchised. Tipp not so much because it’s next to Limerick. That’s human nature.
Avoiding that is fundamental because if Munster is ever viewed as ‘a Limerick team’, then you’re in trouble.
People start noticing things, pointing fingers, dredging up stuff when you’re losing. O’Mahony is injured, so there’s a sense Simon Zebo is one of the few players from Cork on the team.
Before you had O’Callaghan, O’Driscoll, O’Gara, Anthony Horgan, Stringer, Sheahan, Dominic Crotty, John Kelly, Denis Leamy was living there.
So too were Dougie Howlett, Tipoki, Mafi, Jim Williams, Trevor Halstead. They were not born in Cork but they came from Cork.
There’s no obvious solution to the issue, but there might, at a push, be a positive by-product. If the Cork- Limerick thing is stoked enough, it may trickle down to the Ulster Bank League.
The meeting of Cork — Munsters or Con-Garryowen may get spicy again and become the stuff of local pride and bragging rights. You get some real potential coming from these clubs in Cork and Limerick, playing in front of thousands not hundreds, representing something local — then you don’t have to get fellas who don’t make the Leinster first team down playing in your Munster team.
Last Saturday, we were sitting right in front of the spot where young Stade back row Sekou Macalou scored that sensational second-half try.
Ok, it was desperate tackling, but what a try from the young fella — changing the ball, the swerve, the acceleration. He left a quartet of Munster players for dead.
You’d be fearful about the return fixture, not for Munster, but for the attendance. Will it get to 10,000?
You can’t blame the people, either. You have to be loyal but it’s a big ask. Maybe folk might reflect this week this team has given them lots of pleasure too and say ‘no I’m going to stick with them now in the bad times too’.
One thing, though, for the players: If enough isn’t enough after last Saturday, the thing is doomed.
I would be confident there has to be a backlash. I have to see anger this week. I have to.
Otherwise what we know and love, what we have identified with, what Munster almost trademarked, is no more.
There comes a stage in your career when you have to get angry, and if there isn’t anger at Thomond tomorrow on the pitch, there never will be with this group.
Tomorrow has less to do with rugby than it does with character.
In the words of Paul O’Connell, ‘they think they know us, they haven’t a clue’.
Time to stand up and fight.
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