ON a night of celebration when Munster took a further step towards a Magners League crown, there was a feeling of devastation.
Nobody was more upset than man-of-the-match Alan Quinlan, as he described the probable loss of Tomás O’Leary for the remainder of the season.
O’Leary set up an early try for Ian Dowling but then left the field on a stretcher with a suspected broken ankle, an injury that means he is out of Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final clash with Leinster at Croke Park next weekend and the final if they advance, while his participation in the summer Lions tour in serious doubt.
Quinlan, who described his own selection for the Lions as “a total shock” said he would be gutted if O’Leary had to lose out in such circumstances. “Some of us were a bit stunned after the squad was announced and we really had to put it on the back burner, setting out to do a job with Munster. We tried to focus on tonight; one of our goals is to win the Magners League, we achieved what we set out to do – which was to win and, hopefully, get a bonus point – but it wasn’t our best performance of the season by a long shot,” he said.
Jerry Flannery, Munster’s ultra competitive hooker, faced the press feeling a mixture of emotions after the game; sickened by the prospect of losing O’Leary from the squad and from the Lions tour to South Africa.
“It’s not a nice scenario,” said Flannery, “I have to say I really feel gutted for him and his family.’’
As Munster feel the pain of O’Leary’s loss, at least they had the benefit of being able to call on the experienced Peter Stringer, who eased in gently to the match before making a huge impact. It was as if he had never been cut adrift from recent competitive fixtures.
Still, Munster coach Tony McGahan was hoping against hope that O’Leary’s injury wasn’t as bad as first feared. “I haven’t had anything confirmed; he was taken away before I had a chance to see him. It would be difficult if he was to be ruled out; he is an important player for us and it would be a blow if he couldn’t play a part next week.”
McGahan wasn’t pleased with the manner of Munster’s triumph.
“We weren’t quite what we had planned to be, we had them on the ropes a number of times but let them off, maybe we tried to be too flash. We lacked that extra edge we brought to our game this season.”
But the Munster coach still goes into next weekend’s game against Leinster in relatively confident mood, declaring: “We just need to tighten up in certain areas. We weren’t totally happy with our performance but you accept the win and take it. It is another step towards the title and we just have to sit back and watch what happens tomorrow night. We will probably have a clearer picture of what we have to do after that,” he said.
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