Alan Quinlan took a sympathetic but positive long-term view of Anthony Foley’s failed bid to succeed Tony McGahan as Munster head coach, following the appointment yesterday of New Zealander Rob Penney.
As Penney was unveiled as the new boss at the province, Foley was reappointed forwards coach, a decision Quinlan believes was a condition of Penney’s appointment.
Quinlan said he was 100% sure that Penney was appointed only on condition he was happy to work with playing legend Foley, who has won rave reviews from Munster for the way he has developed as a young coach.
In the end, Quinlan figures the vacancy probably came a bit too soon for his former colleague, and that Penney’s experience as a head coach with a quality outfit in New Zealand swung the issue for him.
Although Quinlan had hoped Foley would get the job, he admitted: “I think it’s probably the right decision, looking at it in hindsight; certainly Axel has the credentials for the job and he would have been able to handle it and do a good job.
“What probably came against him in the end was that head coach experience, or lack of it, and Rob Penney obviously has that type of experience; he has success in recent years winning four ITM Cups on the trot, and from what I hear he really impressed in his interview and in his presentation.
“He’s pretty highly thought of in New Zealand and I suppose it was a very big decision and they took their time about it. I think people were anxious and wanted to find out what the delay was but Anthony, even though I would have given him the job, might well be better off at this point in time.”
Munster, he suggested, was a tough place at the moment. “There are lots of changes happening with players and staff going; it’s a big job and a lot of big decisions have to be made. Anthony has done very, very well with the forwards there in the last year and, from a common sense point of view, he’s probably better off in getting more experience in the day to day running of the stuff.
“Maybe part of it was also down to having lost against Ulster; there’s a bit of negative talk around the team and perhaps they had to be seen to go for somebody with head coach experience. Penney has a pretty impressive CV and is highly thought of.”
Whatever the disappointment in the Foley household last night — and Quinlan noted that disappointment in a chat the two had yesterday — he said there was no doubt that the former iconic captain will give Penney his full support.
“Knowing him, Axel will keep working away, he will do the best he can and keep learning, he is one of our top quality Irish coaches, and even though it’s disappointing, I feel it’s him the next time for sure.
“He’s not somebody to take this badly, I spoke to him, we’re very close friends, he put himself out there, in the window; look, there’s for and against, I said a few weeks ago he should get it but I think there are reasons for and against, it’s probably just because he’s that little bit short on that experience.”
But as Foley looks forward, Quinlan is convinced that he can take a huge positive from the announcement he would continue as forwards coach. “You can be 100% per cent guaranteed that Foley came as part of the package, and he will see that as an opportunity to bring himself along to the level of a head coach.”
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