The sense of expectation at this stage every year is massive and now that Munster have opted for an entirely homegrown coaching panel, the entire squad, the Red Army and indeed all Irish and European rugby followers can hardly conceal the excitement that lies ahead.
Sadly, rugby coaches have long since become accustomed to dealing with injuries to key players, and yesterday Foley revealed that hooker Mike Sherry, who has been out of action since last November because of knee and shoulder damage, faces yet another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“Unfortunately, Mike is gone for five of six months,” said Foley. “He went under the knife again last week, the shoulder graft didn’t take and he had to get it redone. It’s a huge blow for everyone, but especially for Mike. We’ll look after him, he’s important to us. He’s an integral part of our squad and for a guy to be out for that length of time, it’s not good. But he’s a Munster player, he’s been brought up with us and brought through here so we have to look after him.”
Sherry’s absence for at least the first half of the season and some uncertainty concerning Damien Varley, Duncan Casey and Niall Scannell suggests that Munster may be short in the number 2 jersey but plans are already in place to try and rectify the situation.
“We’ve brought in Kevin O’Bryne from UL Bohs and Gerry Slattery from Young Munster,” said Foley. “Kevin has been with us all pre- season. When Mike’s issue raised its head, we brought Gerry Slattery into our squad. Those two boys have fitted in well, they understand Munster, they understand what we’re about. It’s all about managing the situation, it’s not about getting panicky.”
Nor is there any clear indication of when outstanding second-row forward Donnacha Ryan, who missed crucial stages of last season, will be available.
“Donnacha is back running and is progressing the whole time,” Foley announced. “It’s something we don’t want to rush. It’s a foot/toe problem. We’ve just got to remain patient with that because he’s a quality player. If we give him time now, we’ll get more out of him later on.”
And the medical report was still far from over, with Foley reasonably optimistic about the return by early to mid-October of Peter O’Mahony, the captain ruled out of numerous crucial matches for Munster and Ireland towards the end of last season.
“Peter is coming on every week and is hungry to get involved,” said the coach. “He is doing the skills training sessions with us. He hasn’t taken part in our squad days as yet. It’s sometime in October he’s scheduled to come back. Keith Earls picked up a problem with his knee above in Irish camp last week. It’s going to take four or five weeks for it to mend. Gerhard Van den Heever may be out for three and four weeks but his injury is not as bad as first feared, and Luke O’Dea can be back in a week or two.
“If we can take the hits now on some of these injuries, we’ll take them now and take the benefits later. If you try and force things now, you may give a fella a stop-start season.”
Munster will rely on a large number of academy players for Saturday’s fixture against a Gloucester side coached by former Munster forwards coach Laurie Fisher and managed by Foley’s former Ireland team-mate, David Humphreys. Foley understands why people are fingering the centre of the back division as potential problem positions, given that Casey Laulala and James Downey have moved on but this is another area on which considerable attention is being focused.
“We have a lot of very good young lads coming in there,” declared Foley. “We have Cian Bohane and Ivan Dineen and Denis Hurley as well. We’re looking at Denis as a 12. Andrew Smith has come in and looks really well in training. We’ve Rory Scannell and we are also toying around with where we play a couple of our 10s. We have JJ (Hanrahan) coming back, we have Keats (Ian Keatley) coming back in the near future, we have Johnny Holland training there and looking really well.”