McGahan happy to make the tough calls

MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan sounded almost like Finance Minister Brian Lenihan when describing the selection of his squad for Sunday’s Heineken Cup clash with Ospreys as his toughest task of the year.

Yesterday in Limerick, McGahan reported he had more available playing resources than for some time and had the luxury of naming 28 of his top players for final consideration in a 23-man squad.

However, out of contention with long-term injuries are Jerry Flannery, Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, Felix Jones and Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy is back in action but not eligible.

“This is the toughest, the most difficult team to mix and match,” admitted McGahan.

Five of the group will lose out; in all probability the disappointed will be Tom Gleeson, Scott Deasy, Denis Hurley, Darragh Hurley and either James Coughlan or, dare one say, Alan Quinlan.

Either way, McGahan was making not making promises, not even to his fit-again skipper Paul O’Connell. With the big second row admitting he might struggle to get through 80 minutes of rugby at this level so soon after his return. O’Connell suggested “coming off the bench would be perfect for me”, and the coach intimated he might get his wish.

“It’s more important to have him complete the season after being out for a terrific amount of time. We want to make sure he’s here for the long term and don’t want to put him under undue risk,” said McGahan.

But while he talked up some of the young players coming through the ranks, facts are O’Connell is named as one of just four specialist second rowers in the squad, and his performance as a second-half replacement in last week’s was enough to guarantee him a place on the bench.

McGahan admitted back-to-back Heineken fixtures provided the biggest challenge for any coach or group of players.

“It’s different, you need to look hard leading into the match so your analysis is done correctly. It must be done correctly, with minor changes, from one week to the next.

“More importantly, to get that first result is so important; we’re at home first up so we really have to win that, we don’t want to be travelling away to chase up.”

Munster’s rivalry with the Ospreys has been fairly intense these last few seasons and McGahan acknowledged as much: “For us, any association with the Heineken Cup, regardless of who we’re playing, is a call to attention. There is that familiar part of it because we play Ospreys twice every year, we played them in the quarter-final a couple of years ago, played them three times in one year and we certainly understand that when you play a side a few times in one year, it can lead to a little bit of a comfortable feeling.

“But this season we have only played them once, so we go into this game with the feeling of being fresh, knowing they turned us over last year. That’s still in our memory and we’re keen to take the job in hand.”

There has yet to be a Welsh winner of the Heineken Cup. But in a week when iconic French hooker Raphael Ibanez reckoned the Ospreys could be the first, McGahan agreed they were a huge threat.

In terms of style, he said: “They’ve tightened up a bit but they still retain the flamboyant approach; they’re a very skilful player group and their environment projects that.”

Munster (from): Forwards: W. du Preez, D. Varley, M. Sherry, D. Hurley, J. Hayes, T. Buckley, D. Ryan, P. O’Connell, M. O’Driscoll, D. Ryan, D. O’Callaghan, J. Coughlan, D. Wallace, A. Quinlan, N. Ronan, D. Leamy.

Backs: D. Howlett, K Earls, S. Tuitupou, J. Murphy, L. Mafi, P. Warwick, R. O’Gara, P. Stringer, T. O’Leary, T. Gleeson, S. Deasy, D. Hurley.

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