Foley goes to head of queue

Whether he intended to or not, Anthony Foley publicly kick-started the great Munster coaching succession race yesterday as the province confirmed the departure of present incumbent Tony McGahan at the end of this season.

While Munster branch officials are understood to have launched their search for a new director of coaching more than a week ago, yesterday’s confirmation that McGahan would be quitting the province after more than seven years, the last four seasons as the head man, sparked a metaphorical blizzard of hats being thrown into the ring from all directions.

A shortlist of successors to McGahan, who is strongly believed to be heading back to his native Australia to become the national team’s defence coach under Robbie Deans, grew longer by the hour yesterday in response to the revelations.

Yet while Eddie O’Sullivan let it be known through his agent that the forthcoming vacancy would be ofinterest to him and pundits ventured the names of Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley, Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea, Ireland Under-20 boss Mike Ruddock, former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith and ex-Australian assistant Jim Williams as candidates, to name but a few, front runner Foley was yesterday afforded an official platform to put himself in the shop window.

But first the formalities, with Munster media manager Pat Geraghty making a short statement yesterday ahead of a press conference in Limerick called ostensibly to preview tomorrow night’s home RaboDirect Pro12 game with Cardiff Blues.

“We can confirm the reports that have been in newspapers that Tony McGahan will be leaving Munster at the end of this season,” Geraghty said. “What transpires for him after he leaves here, at the minute we don’t know and we will not comment until it’s been officially announced bywhoever needs to announce it.

“We know he’s leaving at the end of the season but nothing beyond that and nor do we know how thesuccession stakes will work.”

Having taken his seat at the top table as scheduled, forwards coachFoley began addressing the only subject of merit, namely his bosses’ impending departure and his feelings on who should replace him. Understandably coy about his ownintentions with McGahan still on the premises for another four months and not wishing to add further distractions to a campaign still very much alive in both the Heineken Cup andRaboDirect Pro12, Foley nevertheless gave those wishing to read between the lines plenty of indication that the vacancy is one he would jump at.

“I don’t know what the future holds to be honest with you,” Foley said. “I think you’d be flattered to have your name associated with it. I think there’d be a lot of good coachescoming in for that job, it’s a great job and it’s a great club to be involved in.

“I’ve been fortunate to be involved with them for all my career. What I know is it’s a great place to learn your trade, it’s a great place for other coaches, you just look back down the list of coaches that have been here, Deccie [Declan Kidney], Gaffer [Alan Gaffney], Tony [McGahan], they all seem to go on to bigger and better things.

“So it’s a great springboard, stepping stone for ambitious coaches but, I tell you one thing, you need to be fully aware of what you’re getting into here and I’m sure that’s something that they’ll take into account when they’re picking a successor.”

Whether he was purposely narrowing the field or not by that last statement, Foley obviously remains the front-runner given his long association with the province as a player, captain and now a successful young coach, both popular and respected by the players, be they the young bucks he mentored in the A team or the senior statesmen he led into so many battles on the pitch.

The only question mark will be whether this opportunity has come too soon when the perception was that Foley would be groomed to succeed McGahan in a couple more years.

If that is the case, then the Wallabies have forced the issue somewhat in moving to appoint a new defence coach, although Munster have no need and no inclination to rush into deciding on a replacement and neither Foley nor hooker Damien Varley said they saw that timeframe as being a problem for the players.

“Whenever anyone tells you they’re leaving you’re going to be taken by surprise and Tony’s a guy who will be sorely missed and has made a massive contribution to Munster, so I was surprised,” Varley said when asked about McGahan’s decision. “But that said, it’s time for our attention to be focused on competitions at hand rather than people coming and going.”

MUNSTER (squad v Cardiff Blues): Forwards: M Horan, W du Preez, J Ryan, S Archer, BJ Botha, D Varley, D Fogarty, S Henry, M O’Driscoll, B Holland, D Foley, I Nagle, Dave O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, P Butler, J Coughlan Backs: T O’Leary, D Williams, C Sheridan, I Keatley, S Deasy, S Scanlon, L O’Dea, S Zebo, L Mafi, D Barnes, J Murphy, F Jones.

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