Jerry Flannery keeping the Munster value system intact through years of change

He’s the coaching constant at Munster, working under three different head coaches in as many years. Jerry Flannery understands better than most the value system crucial to the province’s future - and the importance of the Munster manual.

Jerry Flannery keeping the Munster value system intact through years of change

AMIDST the turmoil of the last four seasons at Munster, Jerry Flannery has been one of the few constants as head coaches have come and gone.

Since the departure of Rob Penney in the summer of 2014, after which former hooker Flannery was appointed Anthony Foley’s scrum coach, the turnover at the top of the team management tree has not pointed to a great deal of stability in the province.

There has been continuity of sorts but it smacks of necessity rather than design.

The late Foley was replaced by a director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus while remaining as head coach before his tragic and untimely death, and then the South African’s unforeseen departure and long goodbye forced a handover to compatriot van Graan midway through both a league campaign and European pool qualification process.

Flannery, 39, has not just survived through it all, he is flourishing having become forwards coach during the summer as Erasmus announced his decision to return home.

He is also eager to build on the foundations he saw Erasmus put in place for Munster’s progress during his all-too-brief 18-month tenure, not just tactically but culturally.

Like the province he played 94 times for before a career-ending calf injury in March 2012, Flannery is ready to move onto the next step and he believes Munster can only do that by building on the strengths of the past in a systematic rather than anecdotal way.

Van Graan’s arrival means Flannery has now worked for three different team bosses since returning to Munster as a coach, only he and team manager Niall O’Donovan have remained since the first day of Foley’s reign when an all-Munster coaching ticket was introduced.

“I hadn’t thought about it like that. It was tough, that second year (2015-16) after I came back; really, really tough. But I think the club is in a much better place now in terms of the infrastructure that’s there and Rassie coming in.

“If you speak to myself and (backline and attack coach) Felix (Jones) we can’t tell you how big an impact Rassie and Jacques (Nienaber, then defence coach) had. Rassie in terms of being able to see the big picture and seeing where the club stood objectively.

“Sometimes Felix and I get so caught up with Munster because we’ve played for the club and see it as the be-all and end-all and that nothing is insurmountable. Rassie stepped back and saw a lot of things that we took for granted.

“He said, ‘you don’t understand how hard your players work’, and ‘they’re players who want to play for Munster before they want to be professional players, so you don’t have to create this artificial thing where the biggest thing is to get these young athletes to play for something bigger than themselves’.

“We have that here and we can’t take it for granted. There will be times when it will go away but we need to actually reinforce it because it is an advantage that we have and the Irish clubs have because kids that grew up in Dun Laoghaire or Dalkey or Blackrock want to play for Leinster and then the fact they get paid for it as well is great. That’s an advantage.

“You look at Saracens, they’ve created a culture where kids like Jamie George and Maro Itoje as they come up through the ranks, they don’t know anything better than this is their club and it means something to them.

“That’s sort of where we are but we’ve got to keep evolving as a club. If we had stayed where we were in 2014 we’d be in a terrible place but Garrett (Fitzgerald, Munster chief executive) and the Professional Game Board and Commercial board have had a big influence in putting an infrastructure in place here and we’ve now just got to make sure that we future-proof the club.

“As players and coaches, we just keep going through the door every few years but making sure there’s a really good system here. When Rassie first came in here and I met him he said it just happened that Munster had this group of players who were really, really hard workers who were really determined and who all focused on one goal, which was to become the best team in Europe.

“He said, ‘you did a lot of amazing things but you never documented it and if you don’t document something you can’t see it objectively and see how it needs to evolve’.

Flannery and Felix Jones are the standard bearers for the Munster way now, charged by Erasmus with ensuring the traditions and standards are continually reinforced to ensure the province not just survives but keeps pace with Europe’s cash-rich big guns.

His mention of Erasmus’s instruction to “document” everything that Munster do brings to mind the belief of 2014 European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley that his team’s success was built on that of those that went before him and passed on their formulae for victory to their successors in the form of a playbook.

“100 per cent right,” Flannery says. “For me, for years, Munster’s lineouts were always personnel-driven and we had some of the best personnel ever. We had Frankie Sheahan, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan; Billy Holland now. But it was very personnel-driven so once those guys go out, the system still evolves but when you come in from the outside it takes you six weeks to get up to speed.

“That’s why Rassie said, ‘we’ve got to have manuals for everything’. So a guy can come in and just pick up the manual. When someone comes into Munster there should be a consistent process. Some guys will be aware of the history of the place but some won’t be and you want them to understand how much bigger the club is than just what he’s signed for, the history and tradition. I genuinely feel that when young guys understand the history of Munster, like when they went to play the New Zealand Maori they said ‘we can definitely win this game because that Munster teams do. Regardless of the personnel, that’s what they do.

“You can’t take for granted when people come in that they know that but having a system when someone comes in and they’re brought through all the normal stuff like houses but also talked through the history and getting to meet past players. It’s something we have to do in Munster.

“I remember going over to Leicester years ago to play a charity match after I’d retired and after the game seeing all of the Leicester guys I would have grown up watching all in the bar afterwards having coffee or pints. I thought, the current Leicester players now don’t see it as a job, they see that when they leave Leicester they’re still part of the club, not just pictures on the wall.

“That’s something we have to do and do well. There was a big turnout of all the ex-lads coming along to the game and I know that because I’m on a WhatsApp group but the more you make those things an actual thing that happens at a certain time every year people become used to it.”

Flannery cites John Kerr’s 2013 book “Legacy” sub-titled: “15 Lessons In Leadership” which uses the sub-heading “What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life.”

“If you’ve read that Legacy book on the All Blacks where they say ‘we actually had to make sure that this is how things happen’, so (the players are given) a book and these are the traditions and this is what is expected of you as an All Black.

“That’s what we need to get for Munster and that’s why myself and Felix got so excited when Rassie was coming in because it made sense.

“It gives you this really good feeling that if I look after my cog here you know that the guy is watching the big pictures and making sure all the cogs are working in the right direction.

“The worse thing would be to come in and have a good season last year, not get silverware but be in the mix when you were a kind of an underdog, then drop off. The biggest thing we wanted this year was to be able to consolidate and build on last year and to do that you’ve got to have systems in place.

“Rugby is chaos but I mean in terms of how you approach it. Like when young players come in there’s a lot of old rugby traditions, every team has them, like singing a song at the front of the bus and all that kind of stuff.

“Those things are important but we have to document them and make sure they’re not forgotten. Because one year if it doesn’t happen, how’s it going to happen again?

“Or something else that comes in that’s fake, plastic, not real. These things are important.”

Talked To Quinny Yet?

Jerry Flannery raised some eyebrows last week when he called out former team-mate and Sky Sports rugby pundit Alan Quinlan for comments he made about Munster’s defence during their PRO14 victory over Zebre in Italy last month.

The Munster forwards coach had been irked by his friend’s perceived negativity following the 36-19 bonus-point win in Parma on

November 26, when he and attack coach Felix Jones had taken charge of an undermanned squad missing several Ireland internationals following the departure of director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber, while incoming head coach Johann van Graan was just in the door and in observer mode.

Speaking on the podcast The Hard Yards last week, Flannery had let rip, saying, “People will watch it and say, ‘Well, Alan Quinlan must know what’s going on at Munster because he played for them’, but Alan Quinlan has absolutely no idea what’s going on at Munster. Nothing. He hasn’t got an iota of what we do in here.”

So, the Irish Examiner asked Flannery this week at the province’s High Performance Centre as the interview drew to a close, have you talked to Quinny yet?

“No,” he replied, laughing. “I thought you were going to ask me about that.”

“I was probably (being) sensitive but from my point of view... look, I don’t expect people to say ‘ah, look at the Munster lads, aren’t they great’, that’s not how the world works.

“Generally, when something’s said, you get ‘do you know what Alan Quinlan said?’ It gets back to you. Quinny is a Munster man, he’s part of the reason we have all this (looking around the HPC), and I was probably frustrated off the back of knowing that we’d gone from four coaches to two. Felix did the D for the Zebre game and he did the kicking game and he did the attack and I tried to help him as much as I could.

“People on the outside are thinking, ‘it’s just Munster versus Zebre’, but we had sat down and looked at how Zebre had roughly the same points now as they had at the end of last season, their playing style is vastly different, they had the most defenders beaten in any game in the league and they had become a much bigger challenge.

“Take into account the amount of players we had out at the stage to put the prep in and go over there, and I know it wasn’t Quinny’s fault that Ieuan Evans couldn’t do the game and Quinny had to come in last minute, but I just felt he could have tempered his comments and even from the point of view of an ex-player to understand how hard it is to get a bonus-point win over there.

“We’ve had four bonus-point wins in a row now and if people can’t be positive about how we’re adapting at the moment, then when we start losing, where is there to go?

“I could have chosen my words a bit more carefully but that’s genuinely how I felt. I don’t regret saying it because that’s how I felt at the time and I know what my intentions were because I’m protective of Munster. I know that Quinny is one of the best-prepared guys there, so I was disappointed that he would do that.”

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