Horan: I must figure out what I want from life

Marcus Horan sat down to decide his future. Another year in rugby? With no contract on the table from Munster he knew it was time to end a long and fruitful sporting career.

Horan: I must figure out what I want from life

His stats, in amateur and professional rugby, back it up: 67 Irish caps, 224 Munster appearances and a highly successful career with Shannon make him one of the most memorable rugby players of his era.

Looking back, he will pick out the obvious highlights: the participation in Ireland’s Triple Crown, Grand Slam and two Heineken Cup wins with Munster.

Memories aplenty but it all started with Shannon. He name checks people like Niall O’Donovan (current Munster team manager), Mick Galwey (former Munster skipper) and Anthony Foley (Munster/Ireland assistant coach) for helping to form his career, each of them Shannon through and through.

“Timing for me was perfect in terms of moving from amateur to professional rugby,” he said, “but I have to state strongly that the amateur days were very important. The involvement with Shannon was crucial because it gave me a good grounding. It stood to me throughout my career and I’m grateful for that.”

There were so many different strands to his career that he would prefer to take them one at a time. “When you’re winning trophies they stand out and everything is relative at the time. When we were winning those AILs with Shannon they were the best occasions of my life.

“Then as you move up along it was about getting capped for Munster before getting capped for Ireland and then winning trophies with Munster. You would have to look at that. The AIL success, the Heineken Cup wins, the Grand Slam, they’re all relative to the time and ones for the memory bank.”

Another year playing was something he was considering, but when he found out Munster weren’t going to offer him another contract that decision was made.

“I had been hoping to go on another year but now it’s about reassessing and trying to figure out what I want in life. It’s not about falling into a job at the end of the week. It’s something that’s a challenge and rugby has been my life for the last 14 years and more, so I gave it everything.

“I tried to work my way back into the team but it didn’t work out so I am a bit disappointed.”

Other players have decided to look elsewhere when the Munster door was closed on them. For some it has worked, more have found it tough. But Horan is backing his old team-mate Peter Stringer to defy the odds.

“He is in some shape; great condition and enthusiasm. It was important to get out of here because it can really drain you when you’re not getting games and not involved.”

Horan has learned to believe in people like Stringer. After all, they journeyed together from being whipping boys of Europe to top of the pile. Did he ever think it would get so good?

“No, I suppose in the early days it was different. In my first year it was the year we went to Twickenham [2000], although I suspect a lot of ground work had been done by then. We lost to Northampton [9-8] and it was a bit of a roller coaster.

“That group got a taste for something we really liked. The competition probably made Munster into what it is and maybe Munster made the Heineken Cup into what it is too. It just captured all our attention.

“There was a change of coach when [Alan] Gaffney came in and we came close again, but looking back on it we always felt it was in us and we ultimately achieved it. When that happened, it was a relief.”

Noting that Munster signed “a couple of duds” over the years, Horan embraced the arrival of most overseas players with open arms.

“We’ve done very well here in terms of the signings from abroad, the important thing being that these guys coming in could buy into the whole scene.”

He named current captain Doug Howlett, Shaun Payne, Rob Henderson, Mike Mullins, Trevor Halstead, Jim Williams and, his clear favourite, John Langford as the standouts.

“John’s first year here would have been my first year here. His level of professionalism changed a lot of attitudes here.

“I just think the way he carried himself in the gym, the gym for a lot of people in Munster before that was for a bit of craic, messing and having a laugh, but he changed that attitude. It was always about trying to improve things and he brought that about in lineouts and other things in the forwards.

“Paul O’Connell got the tail end of John Langford’s influence and maybe some of it has been passed on, but you can see that the kind of shrewd analysis of the opposition was brought in by JL and is being carried on by the younger guys since.

“Those things aren’t realised at the time maybe but the legacy is often left and Langford was immense in what he did to change attitudes here.

“It was funny in that John was based in Limerick and then Jim Williams arrived and was based in Cork. They overlapped a bit and it meant there was a huge level of professionalism in both centres as far as work in the gym was concerned. I think Munster had a huge benefit from the influence of both these players in particular.”

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