Jerry Flannery enjoyed an outstanding career as a hooker with UCC, Shannon, Galwegians, Connacht, Munster, and Ireland, and completed his Masters in Sports Performance when he received a welcome call from an old friend and team mate.
“Injury had forced my retirement in March 2012 as a player and so I did a Masters in Sports Performance and attained all the strength and conditioning qualifications before working over in the Canadian Rugby Union and then a year at Arsenal,” he recalled.
“And then I got a phone call from Anthony (Foley) about coming back to Munster. He said: ‘If you’re interested, I’m going to put your name forward as scrummaging coach’.”
The deal was duly signed and delivered although given that Flannery had made his name as a hooker, it came as a surprise to many that Foley hadn’t opted for a prop to fulfil a vital role. The challenge was huge and remains so.
“Scrum penalties are deciding too many matches,” Flannery agreed. “Last season was tough. We lost BJ Botha, probably our first choice tight head, we lost Stephen Archer with a neck injury. John Ryan, a loose head, had to come across and play tight head and that’s a very difficult position. Your whole scrum is built around that. The pleasing aspect is that on our own ball we were statistically the best team in the league. But on the opposition ball, we fell down and conceded a lot of penalties.
“When we played Leicester at home, we didn’t have a single scrum on our own ball. And then we went to Leicester, they had Marcus Ayerza, probably the best loose head at the World Cup, hooker Tom Youngs and tight head Dan Cole, both British and Irish Lions. They had 155 caps in their front-row. We had John Ryan, who has not been capped; we had Mike Sherry, one cap, and James Cronin, two caps...
“But we took a ball against the head, conceded no penalties and pushed them off their own ball and forced two penalties at Welford Road. For me, the main thing was that we had lost the game. But we had also shown that we could scrummage, the way the lads rallied and focused and dominated the scrum without Botha.
“We are looking to bridge those inconsistencies. We have signed John Andress who’s been at Edinburgh for the last few years. He is first and foremost a scrummager. The reality is that John Ryan scrummaged fantastically last year but you have to be patient with lads in that position.
“We need to buy ourselves breathing space with results and need a stable platform for that.
“Across the front-row, we have in Kilcoyne and Cronin two of the best loose heads in Europe. At hooker you are looking at Niall Scannell, Mike Sherry, Duncan Casey and Kevin O’Byrne.
“It’s close between those four and I’m very happy with the standard”.
Flannery accepts his future with Munster will be determined by results and makes it clear the key to success is through hard work.
“I was never blessed with anything genetically. Anything I got, I got because I worked very, very hard and maximised everything I had,” he stressed. “And that is the message I would give to young players. The majority are not going to be Brian O’Driscoll kind of players — they’re going to be players who have to work on aspects of their games. In fact, even ‘Drico’ had to work on his game. You have to recognise that some have a higher talent base to start with. I really admire the really hard workers and want them to succeed.”
So what would be a good season for Munster?
“The way we finished last season is a huge positive, the way we beat Edinburgh and Scarlets to scrape into the Champions Cup. The players rallied and going into this season, we are within touching distance of winning all the time and so that means top four in the Pro 12 and getting out of our group in Europe.”
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