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Heal Munster furore by giving criticised players chance to shine -- Quinlan

The former Munster flanker tells us of his own experiences of being widely criticised and what will happen next in Anthony Foley’s squad.

Quinlan celebrates league success with Foley for Shannon in 1997.
Quinlan celebrates league success with Foley for Shannon in 1997.
Image: © James Meehan/INPHO

ALAN QUINLAN KNOWS  the current Munster coaching ticket well.

“25 years”, is his conservative estimate. Yet he doesn’t hesitate to call last week’s mis-directed e-mail a mistake, and an embarrassing one at that.

However, as a Welsh referee might be inclined to point out, ‘this is not soccer’. Players won’t go on strike, they won’t call their agent to demand an immediate transfer and the coach will look each wronged athlete in the eye and say, ‘now’s your chance to prove us wrong’.

“The one thing you’ll get with Anthony Foley is straight talk and honesty,” said Quinlan sounding like a man who has been on the end of a cutting word or two from his long-time number eight.

You’ve gotta give the guys who were criticised the opportunity to rectify it. That’s the best way of healing this.

“Look at him straight in the face and say: ‘Look, sorry it happened. It shouldn’t have happened, it’s up to you now to rectify it’. And it’s up to the players then to sink or swim.”

Quinlan points out that the kind of in-depth notes of a player’s persona on top of their skill-set is becoming increasingly common in various sports. However, these (sometimes stinging) criticisms from a leader in the group will always hurt.

“I’ve been in that situation where I was disappointed by public criticism in front of my teammates, but I’ve always tried to come back and prove coaches wrong,” says the Sky Sports pundit.

General view during training The Munster squad get together in training at UL on Monday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Eddie [O'Sullivan] gave me a few grillings from time to time at squad sessions for dropping balls or being in the wrong position.

“I remember Alan Gaffney ripped into me after a match against Harlequins in Twickenham – and we had beaten them. We had a meeting the following morning and I got a fair bit of flack in front of everyone for winning a penalty, but then giving lip to the referee so he reversed it.

“I knew I’d done wrong, and there were a few other moments in the game I hould have done better.”

The difference to Quinlan’s situation was that this private memo first leaked to the full squad, and then into the public eye.

“It’s more disappointing from the Munster point of view that it got out into the press,” adds Quinlan,  ”but that’s the modern day with social media. If you e-mail a document to 50-60 people some people will get disgruntled, some people will speak about it to somebody else.”

Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace All of the Irish provinces will feature live in on Sky Sports in the Guinness PRO12 this autumn, including the early season crunch match between Leinster and Munster, exclusively live with Sky Sports on 4 October. Throughout the season Sky Sports will show 30 live matches, plus the semi-finals and final from the tournament. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Speaking at the launch of Sky Sport’s autumn rugby coverage, Quinlan’s fellow pundit Paul Wallace found the positive in the situation; that it may give Munster that hard edge that was once their trademark.

It’s like a dropped player,” says Wallace, “you think you’re playing to the top of your ability, but when you’re out in the cold for a couple of weeks, and – especially if you haven’t been dropped for a long time – you come back and there’s a rage, an inner energy. I think with these guys it’ll be the same effect.

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The former prop adds: “It can give a bit of a chip on the shoulder. You look at the way Axel has recruited his management squad. There’s no secret that Jerry Flannery’s there as scrum coach, but also to toughen them up mentally. Get them a little bit agitated.

When I used to play against Quinny, Axel and the boys; there was always a chip on the shoulder and that seems to have faded away a bit in Munster. From what I can see from the outside, I think they’re looking to try and get that back. This could be a great opportunity for them.”

‘Axel is the epitome of what Munster is all about’

These things happen. E-mails get sent to the wrong address, you reply all when you meant to just go on a one-to-one rant. We put it to Quinlan and Wallace that, for the Munster rugby community as a whole, it’s better that this particular thing happened with Foley at the helm.

Had it been (let’s say) a divisive Kiwi coach halfway through a season, it could have caused all-out war in the southern province. With the great Foley, there’s no danger of a small group of players stirring up a coup.

“It certainly makes a bad situation a little bit better, a little bit calmer. Axel is the epitome of what Munster is all about, he’s been there done that. He’s achieved so much as a player. that will hopefully heal the situation a bit better.

“Axel’s a straight shooter. He’s straight and honest – he’ll not molly-coddle guys either, Anthony doesn’t believe in that. There’ll be a line drawn under this pretty quickly.”

“I’d imagine it’s already drawn.”

Sky Sports kick off their autumn schedule of Irish rugby this weekend  by broadcasting the Guinness Pro12 for the very first time, beginning with a double-header on 6 September, featuring both Leinster and Ulster.

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Sean Farrell

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