There was a time when teams boasting outstanding forward packs brought the All-Ireland League title to Limerick almost as a matter of course.
Shannon began a famous four-in-a-row in 1994, enjoyed a hat-trick from 2004 to 2006 and with nine to their credit are comfortable leaders in the order of merit.
Those Shannon teams included some of the finest forwards in the history of the Munster and Irish game.
Indeed, Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, and John Hayes comprised the entire front-row when Ireland completed a historic Six Nations Grand Slam in Cardiff in 2009 while Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley, and Alan Quinlan were hugely influential in making Munster such a major force against all comers.
Also very much to the fore were Paul O’Connell and Peter Clohessy of Young Munster and Keith Wood and David Wallace (Garryowen) as Munster challenged and often defeated Europe’s finest.
Not all of these players actually came from Limerick but their association with the city’s clubs certainly helped them to be moulded into such formidable performers.
However, you must go back to 2007 when Garryowen came out on top for the third time for the most recent Limerick champions of the All-Ireland League. Former star Marcus Horan believes that is one crucial reason why the city’s clubs no longer produce forwards of the quality and quantity of former days — a point which was highlighted by Donal Lenihan in his Irish Examiner column last week.
However Horan believes that such a a changing trend may not be all negative.
“It may be down in some ways to the academy system widening the net,” he said.
“They have gone to places that have not been rugby strongholds in the past like Bantry and produced guys like Fineen Wycherley.
“My criticism would be that the club game has suffered over the years. We haven’t had the clubs dining at the top table for the last few years. We (Shannon) were winning the AIL fairly regularly back in the day and that was reflected on to Munster also performing well. The club game benefits the professional game.
“You talk about widening the net but there are going to be at least two or three players over a 10-year or so period who come from the club game and have not have come through the academy. You take Joey Carbery... okay, you might say it’s only one in a long period of time but he’s an important guy to Irish rugby. One year, he’s winning an AIL with Clontarf, the following year he’s getting capped.
“The numbers are always going to be higher in a city like Limerick than in, say, Bandon. You’re going to get one or two from those places but it’s important to keep the Limerick scene alive. That growing up in a club around a tradition and a good culture is really important.
“Maybe some of the players are missing a bit of identity because they’re not associated with a club or haven’t come up the hard way like a lot of us did. I think that does show if a guy has a love for the game rather than just seeing it as a career, that they go out on a Tuesday night and train in conditions not as good as they would be with the academy or the Munster seniors ... playing in a game where there’s only a handful watching and still being able to perform.”
Horan remains close to the scene nowadays with his work on TG4’s excellent coverage of the Guinness PRO14 and has his own interesting take on Munster’s recent defeats by Leinster and Ulster.
“Munster didn’t have the resources to make changes like Leinster did and were dealing with a huge amount of injuries,” he said. “They beat an English team a couple of weeks on the trot and so it was a big ask physically against Leinster and it showed. They were a bit lethargic starting, I thought they were in big trouble at half-time but I was delighted with the reaction. They could have won so I wouldn’t be overly concerned about that one.
“But the game this week in Belfast... the kicking game let Munster down. They could have had a bonus point at half-time and it shows how the game got away from them. It was a bad performance in the first half against Leinster and a bad performance in the second-half against Ulster. So their backs are to the wall on Saturday against Connacht. It’s going to be a huge game for Munster, not just in the PRO14 but leading into Europe as well.”
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