Munster Rugby move into their new €9.75m training centre at the University of Limerick this week with the players wondering why they have been operating between two bases for so long.
After a decade of hand-wringing about the necessity for, and then the location of a single training base, then three and a half years of planning and construction once the decision to forge ahead was made, Munster will finally take possession of a state of the art centre of rugby operations.
New director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will be the lucky boss that gets the keys to what he has described an “above world class” facility.
That the province won two Heineken Cups and four Celtic League titles while his predecessors divided their work between Cork and Limerick seems remarkable given the strains it put on preparations, let alone the carbon footprint it created and the considerable time wasted forcing a squad regularly along the traffic-filled 100-plus kilometre route between the cities to training sessions at either UL or Cork Institute of Technology.
UL was the preferred site and the instutition has financed and overseen the €9.5 m build while anchor tenants Munster have implemented a €250,000 fit-out with the state-of-the-art gym - the first area to become operational.
The current squad are more than happy with the new arrangement and already feeling the benefits, not least the simple process of getting to know better their team-mates previously based at opposing ends of the N20. Up to a dozen of the 18 Cork-based players are understood to have moved to Limerick during the summer with many who have remained in Cork for family reasons have opted to overnight on Shannonside for parts of the week.
“It is great,” Corkman Rory Scannell said this week.
“I wouldn’t have known a lot of the Limerick lads on a personal level that well, so it is great to be able to meet them after training for coffee, grub and have those little chats. Obviously with the new training centre now we are all looking forward to getting in there when it is open next week. It can only go forward from here.”
For Tommy O’Donnell, the idea of a twin training base now feels slightly absurd to the Ireland flanker. “It takes a lot of miles off the road, and your set-up for the week is completely different, it just felt like a whole new change - you arrive back to a new director of rugby, a new defence coach, and this new added bonus of having players in the one vicinity for the whole time, so there’s much more contact hours in the week,” O’Donnell said ahead of today’s Pro12 season opener at Scarlets.
“I was speaking to Tyler Bleyendaal, and he said Canterbury (in his native New Zealand) were the same, with their facilities, but when you win in a certain system, they didn’t have the best facilities but they won in those facilities, and what they didn’t realise is that when they kept those facilities other teams were catching up, and then they had to go and change it.
“Until you take a step back and get a new set of eyes, you don’t realise how ridiculous it is when you’ve always been in that system.
“I suppose the (Munster) team that was there was an exceptional team, and they won trophies, so when you have won in spite of that you’re going to keep doing it.”
Keeping the squad together in one location, all the time, can only be a positive, O’Donnell believes.
“When you look at the facility, and how close everything is, you can roll straight from meetings into the gym, or from mobility into the gym, you’re shaving minutes out of your day, which allows you way more time to get things done, to be in meetings longer, or on the field longer, or chatting with one of your players.”
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