As a player who lived through the nightmare of Ireland’s 2007 World Cup campaign, Jerry Flannery knows all about dark days and being the centre of attention during the experience.
It has not become any easier to deal with now he is starting out as a coach. The pain of Munster’s losing run and exit from the Champions Cup in humiliating fashion at the hands of Stade Francais has sent the 37-year-old scrum coach and his fellow coaches back under the spotlight. Flannery understands that, accepts it comes with the territory and believes it can actually be empowering for players and management alike.
“The thing about this job, playing or coaching Munster, people talk about it being a goldfish bowl but I think that’s a good thing,” Flannery told the Irish Examiner this week. “There’s no real clocking off and the only people that really aren’t into that are not 100% in the job, whether it’s people who are not training or living their life as well as they should do.
“I think it’s a strength, it makes players better and the players who are mentally tough enough to play for Munster get held to a higher standard.”
That mental toughness may not seem too evident to onlookers who have witnessed six defeats in the last seven games, culminating in that second-half meltdown during the 27-7 defeat to Stade last Saturday in Paris. Yet as Munster prepare to redress the balance at home to the French champions at Thomond Park today, Flannery sees it in abundance in the squad and among the coaching staff led by Anthony Foley.
“When I was in school, I remember a teacher saying to me ‘you’ll never play rugby in this kind of environment again’ because when you’re in school it’s so pure. No-one has got a job or kids or anything like that.
“Then when I played with Munster’s it actually reminded me of that again. We were all so invested in how the team performed and I still see that same trait with some of these lads here. So it’s good you still feel an affinity with what the current players have for the jersey.
“And we’re all feeling the pain. Look, I just want Munster to win, I’m a Munster fan and I’m trying to do my very best to help that. I have a narrow enough remit around the squad so for me, developing as a young coach, it’s a good platform for me.
“I look at someone like Andy Farrell coming in (this week as a coaching consultant) and I’m excited to see what way he does things. Whenever we sit down with someone like Joe Schmidt or Greg Feek I love picking their brains, chatting to them and seeing how they do things.
“I’ve operated under a lot of them as a player and been exposed to seeing how different coaches work. It’s about getting the right blend, the right mix and it’s obviously not been working for us at the moment so we’ve got to keep working.
“You can’t walk away from it. It’s not like in 2007 when there was an end point and you leave. You’ve just got to keep going and when you don’t get it right the pain keeps going on and on, and not just for us, for all the supporters and everyone who’s pissed off.”
When Munster do eventually come out the other side, the idea is that those involved in those dark days will be all the better for the experience.
“Yeah, hopefully my young fella won’t be 18 or something when that happens,” Flannery cracked, referring to his 12-week-old son.
“I don’t think we’ll have that long. Same as when you’re playing, you’ll come out the far side of it but when you’re in the middle of it you just need to keep focusing.
“We could be down in the dumps but we’ve got to front up and put on a show in Thomond Park because the worst thing I could imagine would be nobody coming to watch us and feeling like, jeez, is this what’s Munster Rugby has come to?
“So you just keep working at it. I had dark days as a player, everyone has when they play rugby, you just have to suck it up and work your way through the dark ones.” Flannery understands the question marks now surrounding the coaching team and accepts the blame lies with everyone.
“We have been making the same errors over the games. We’ve been naive, we’ve lacked composure, lacked a bit of good management on the field at times. That’s not on the players, that’s on everyone. Your job as a coach is to develop those qualities within players, particularly your playmakers.
“If you just put it down to individual errors, that generally happens maybe for a game or a couple of games. It doesn’t happen on the streak we’ve been having. If you look at the age profile of the squad that’s playing, they’re in their early 20s and mid-to-late 20s. Go through the spine of the team, the 2, 8, 9, 10, 15, you don’t have any guys there in their 30s, so we’re a developing team and I suppose that’s why we’ve had so much possession but we just haven’t used it.
“We’ve got to develop that as coaches. That’s on us. Look at the players we have, there are some really fantastic players there, we’ve just got to bring it out of them.”
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