MUNSTER chief executive Garret Fitzgerald credits former players such as Jim Williams with spreading the word among southern hemisphere players about the Irish province as “a good place to work”.
Fitzgerald was speaking at the unveiling of new Munster signing Jean de Villiers, who revealed he had sounded out Williams and former Leinster star Rocky Elsom after a South Africa-Australia game about joining the province.
“If you go back 10 years, Munster would have been well known but we wouldn’t have had as many overseas players,” said Fitzgerald.
“Now we’ve had top quality southern hemisphere players come here and perform, and that’s made it easier for us to recruit players. They’re being told about the professional approach in Munster by players who’ve been here.
“Players won’t always be happy, but at least they’re being told in advance ‘it’s a good place to work, it’s a good place to go’.”
Fitzgerald added the contribution those players make off the field is crucial to Munster’s success.
“We’ve learned that with high-profile, proven international players – the kind of players we want to bring into the Munster squad – it’s as much for what they do off the field as for what they do on the field.
“If you go back to the likes of John Langford, Jim Williams, up to Doug Howlett and so on, the other players love to train with them and learn from them, particularly the younger lads.
“Jean isn’t any different. He’s got a good personality and that’s something he’s highlighted – he’ll do what he can to help younger players along. I think that’s hugely important.”
The chief executive stressed that a players’ personality is a key element in deciding who to sign.
“That’s an area we’ve always concentrated on,” said Fitzgerald
“The person is very important and if you have the right person then they settle much easier and they have an understanding of different cultures. It doesn’t guarantee us any success when signing top players, but it’s part of all the overall package.
“The likes of Keith Earls, who had a fantastic summer, and Tom Gleeson, it’s very important for those guys to mix with these top players. That’s a huge development role that these players play for us, and hopefully when they leave, they’ll continue to play an ambassadorial role for Munster.
“Part of the identification process for us is finding the right person, meeting them, talking to them, listening to people who’ve played with and against them. Obviously a lot of our top players would be playing against these players at international level and would meet them, and some players strike up relationships with each other.
“The playing aspect is a huge part of it, but understanding players’ domestic situations is another challenge when it comes to signings. Take Laurie Fisher, who came over with teenage kids – that’s something you have to take into account. Others come over alone, others with partners or wives.”
Fitzgerald sees improved form as a natural consequence of players being contented off the field of play.
“If the person is happy, then they perform, and they’re productive. It’d be the same for an Irish person going to the southern hemisphere – take the Gaelic footballers going to play Australian Rules. Settling into a foreign culture is a big challenge for them.
“The players are coming in to do a job for us – they’re employees and you need your employees to be happy. So what happens off the field is as important as what they do off it, and we’ve been very lucky with the players we’ve had in that sense.”
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