HIS FIRST Thomond test as Munster manager was a white-knuckle ride as they scraped past Montauban.
For Tony McGahan’s second Thomond examination, he was handed a rather different task. On Thursday night his oration took place underneath the West Stand, rather than on the pitch, as McGahan spoke at BDO Get BACk Challenge Sports Seminar.
More sedate surroundings, more low-key atmosphere but thoughts of Munster never strayed far from his thoughts as he dealt with the subject of motivation in sport. The manner in which Munster bounced back from their unconvincing win over Montauban to overturn Sale, was an obvious starting reference point.
“A good example for ourselves with motivation was our display against Montauban and then the way we did last weekend against Sale.
“The thing with motivation is you’re asking yourself how do we maintain it, where did we get the dip from and how do we now improve it. The thing with motivation is that it depends on how the players react. That’s the same with my role in Munster as it is with coaching youngsters in any sport.”
Despite his Australian roots, McGahan has gleaned enough knowledge from his time in the Munster setup to become attuned to the rugby psyche of the province.
“In our group we recognise the importance of pride and of pride in the players; the Munster players today look back at the players in the past who have worn the jersey. They realise who they are now representing. They represent not just the organisation, but themselves, their families, the province, the cities and all those who have played before. Some big players like Anthony Foley, Shaun Payne and John Kelly have left, who have been tremendous servants for Munster. It’s people like them that we are now representing.”
In terms of McGahan’s own coaching ethos, he’s not in this business to be liked, he is in it to be successful.
“I’ve certainly been well noted for being cranky in training. But you need to judge the mood of the group. Sometimes you need to come down hard in training to make sure there’s no complacency. A lot of managers are liked but not successful. But the leading thing for a coach is to be respected. The affection will come on at a later stage. In making hard decisions, you’re never going to be popular and people realise that. But getting that respect will do wonders for the team ethos.”
A flexible approach when addressing the players in training and matches is something he also ranks high.
“When reviewing games, after a good win it can sometimes be an excellent opportunity to be critical. While if you lose with effort, you can reflect and be very positive in your approach to the players. While you do have core standards and core values, there are times to adjust that.
“Some players can be criticised in front of the team. Other needs a quiet word before training, more again need to be talked to behind closed doors. You can lose a player by berating him in front of the group and with some players it’s a good idea to praise them in front of others.
“We have a wide age profile of players going from John Hayes at the back end of his career to young Keith Earls. What is very important is that the players are involved with the decision-making process. You can spend all the hours you like devising a coaching strategy. But the players must believe in it or else you’re wasting our time.”
His Munster managerial spell may be a fledgling one, but the current prospects are overwhelmingly positive. Riding high in the Magners League and possessing an unblemished European record are feats of substance, yet McGahan is mindful of how things can turn. When he reflects on Munster’s European Cup success last year, Rua Tipoki’s try-saving tackle in the third round tie in Clermont stands out as a pivotal moment. Those cameos sharpen his mind for what lies ahead.
“As soon as we finish, we enjoy it for about 12 hours. Then we’re back on and we prepare. The theme is last game, next game. We don’t get high on the highs, but we don’t get low on the lows. We try to keep it an even temperament. Sale last weekend was great but now it’s about Ulster this weekend.”
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