David Corkery column: Trying times for Munster as van Graan set to go

David Corkery column: Trying times for Munster as van Graan set to go

Academy manager Ian Costello during Munster Rugby squad training at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

I DON'T think I have ever been so disappointed with a match being called off as I was when I heard that Covid had claimed its latest sporting victims, Munster Vs Leinster in what could have been a great local derby on Stephen’s Day.

As a player or spectator these are the kind of games you live for and have you salivating at the gills. 

They are also the ones that normally allow you sort the men from the boys and with Leinster players making up three quarters of the national sides starting fifteen, I would like to have seen what the Munster lads could have done to alter Andy Farrell's opinion.

As to when all these postponed games are going to be rescheduled is a bit of a mystery, but for now we just have to grin and hope that things soon return to some kind of normality, because if it doesn’t, we will all crack up.

Over the last few weeks Munster have had to endure some trying times and whilst the departure of Johann van Graan was highly anticipated, I thought the timing of the announcement was rushed, unprofessional and sloppy.

Am I glad there is to be a changing of the guard? 

Yes, albeit, whoever comes in must know how Munster works and there can be no misunderstanding of the size of the expectations that lay before them. 

Declan Kidney of London Irish before the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and London Irish at StoneX Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)
Declan Kidney of London Irish before the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and London Irish at StoneX Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

I also think the players, especially the ones with the grey hair need to step forward and take what is left of this season by the scruff of the neck and assume control of how they play.

I decline to use the expression insubordination, because it is far too confrontational however, I do believe that the time has come for the players of Munster rugby to take control of their current situation and be happy to live or die by the sword they yield themselves.

Despite the unprecedented and present-day upheavals that are effecting all our lives, I do consider that the official announcement of last week that Johann van Graan would be leaving the province was ill timed and has put many of the players under an unwarranted amount of pressure. 

Pressure that will have a detrimental effect on their performances unless they find a way to use it in a positive light.

When you play sport to earn a crust and keep a roof over your head, your everyday worries are not the same as someone who is working in an office, as a builder or a teacher. 

I’m also not suggesting that these people’s worries are insignificant, it is just that the worries of a professional athlete are very different, and how they perform is at the mercy of the public to scrutinise and berate.

The three main concerns that constantly play on the mind of a professional sports person revolve around getting injured, losing form, and getting old, and when I say old anyone over the age of twenty-eight is now deemed an antique, so when you officially learn that the man who dictates your contracts is jumping ship, it leaves you with yet another entity to worry about.

Maybe Munster’s hand was forced to make the announcement because Bath were going to release the news across the water however, what’s done is done and the players can now either use it as an excuse to fail, or they can find a way to turn it on its head and use the remainder of the season to pave a positive trail for the impending coaching ticket.

Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall

Old news now I know, but eleven years of watching other teams ascend the steps to collect silverware is hard to stomach and this is why I suggest a bit of a revolt from the players is needed because they are the ones who are at the coal face and suffering the most.

With one eye committed to Bath rugby, it is nigh on impossible for van Graan to fulfil the duties he is contracted to do with Munster, so I would even go as far as to say he should depart immediately and leave Ian Costello steer the ship from now until the end of the season. 

I would then bring in someone like Billy Holland to look after the academy set up.

I don’t think anyone would be expecting Costello to transform Munster’s fortunes overnight, however what he can do is unshackle the players from the South African's unadventurous and forward dominated style of playing.

Professional rugby today must be exciting to watch, challenging to defend against and most importantly fun to play and unless the Munster players can play the game with a smile on their face and enjoy what they are doing, they will never rekindle the spirit of 2006 or 2008 and their wait for the feeling of silverware to be dangling from their necks will continue to grow and grow.

With many names doing the rounds as to who van Graan’s successor will be, hear is who I think might be worth approaching.

Declan Kidney: He would be returning to a very different Munster, but I am sure he would love another crack off it.

Ian Costello: Already a proven coach at a very high level, the Limerick man knows Munster rugby well and this for me is a vital ingredient to have.

Jason Holland: Maybe still in his apprenticeship years but, with his New Zealand pedigree he would bring a new and exciting brand of rugby with him.

Head coach Ronan O'Gara Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Head coach Ronan O'Gara Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Stuart Lancaster: Might not be all that interested, but what he has achieved with Leinster and Leo Cullen is simply amazing.

Ronan O’Gara: Already ruled himself out, but circumstances can change very quickly, and I think the I.R.F.U would be silly were they not to speak with him.

Mark McCall: Having won the English Premiership five times and three European Cups with Saracens, the Ulster man might just be looking for a new challenge, but it would be a long shot.

Scott Robinson: For me he would be a perfect fit, but with his eyes set on coaching New Zealand one day, I can not see him leaving his current role with the Crusaders.

Jeremy Davidson: Currently coaching French top 14 side CA Brive, the Ulster man has certainly served his time as a topflight coach and I think his drive to succeed would suit Munster’s needs.

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