I am a proud Munster Rugby supporter. I have made the pilgrimage to the amphitheater of Thomond Park since I was a young lad. I have supported Munster for at least twenty-five years, starting with trips to Tom Clifford Park to watch Young Munster in action. The atmosphere and banters at those legendary AIL games will live with me forever and set the backdrop to when Munster Rugby fans of all AIL and Junior clubs would congregate at Thomond Park to support the team to victory, games where the team had no divine right of winning, games where the opposition froze such was the atmosphere generated in the stands and terraces and setup electric nights of success and celebration. The miracle games would be nothing without the supporters who turned up and fully backed the side when their backs were against the wall.
The alleged booing of Ian Keatley on December 12th was a sorry chapter but I think this incident was highlighting the lack of direction shown by Munster Rugby both on and off the pitch. The on the pitch performances have being poor as of late, back line play is non-existent and the once feared pack lacks the abrasiveness and physicality to control crunch fixtures. Munster Rugby can point to recent developments in the training facilities and Independent Park but the facts are that the product on the park has to be of a sufficient quality for supporters to have trust and confidence that the team is going in the right direction. The departures in the off-seasons of talisman such as O’Connell, O’Callaghan and even more damaging the exits of emerging talents such as Hanrahan and Butler saw a void in the squad which has not being rectified. This is where the frustration stems from and the fact that Ian Keatley has no serious competition at number ten means that standards have dropped, penalty kicks are being missed with worrying regularity. It is not Keatley’s fault. It is the fault of Munster for not providing the competition for the player to continue his player development and growth.
Munster Rugby talk about respect. They need to provide it to the fans as well in terms of how they intend to recruit playing staff for the upcoming season. I am writing off this season. Munster are on the verge of European Cup elimination. Their sights should be set on identifying targets for next season to rectify issues seen in the pack, out-half and three quarter positions. There is no sense at this time that Munster Rugby’s scouting networks are identifying home grown indigenous talent even at the junior and school levels when compared with the other provinces. The lack of combined school teams in counties such as Kerry, Clare and Waterford is damning to identify this talent early. Shrewd acquisitions are required and hopefully Munster are eyeing players like Ian Madigan, Sean Cronin to increase squad depth and first team competition.
The booing of Ian Keatley incidentally never started on December 12th. The rumblings of discontent on the JJ Hanrahan’s debacle last season manifested itself during the Osprey’s Pro 12 semi-final win. Certain Thomond Park sections vented their frustration that Hanrahan was not given his opportunity to shine as Keatley struggled for performance consistency throughout. Keatley was withdrawn from proceedings with ten minutes left of this contest and the jeers started, more for management than the actual player on the delayed reaction of this proposed switch.
I sense that the events leading up to the December 12th incident was more in this vain which is unfortunate but it raises questions on how supporters should conduct themselves during game day at Thomond Park. Should fans not express their reaction if the team are failing to fire? Should fans now accept mediocrity and error strewn displays? Ticket prices are high and fans expect a team performance full of endeavor, work rate and execution of the basic skills. The performance at Thomond Park on the night failed to reach those heights and so raises the question, what do fans do in this situation? Does a comment ‘come on, lift it’ now constitute a reason to be escorted from the stadium, negative comment in someone’s eyes which per Munster Rugby (RESPECT doctrine) needs to be reported to a steward. The Munster Rugby vs. Munster Fan relationship has taken a turn, the majority of fans will continue to support the team with pride but the statement could potentially deter some from going to the ground given the parameters now set by the organization for ejection from the game. Passionate fans are part and parcel of Munster’s fabric but sense this will be diluted after the events of December 12th.
Ian Keatley should not be the scapegoat for Munster’s failings, the responsibility should be carried by everyone associated with Munster (fans included). Increased talent in the squad is required pronto, the fans need to back the team in these tough times. Team management needs to learn from recent setbacks, identify players who can compete for starting first team places. The Munster Rugby head honchos need to be more open to the supporters in terms of their long term plans for the team both from playing and business perspective. If investment is required, what is being done to lure that investment in? All parties need to come together and form an united front. The Thomond Park fortress has taken a dent in image, time to move on for all concerned and move forward with shrewd mindset, passionate support and more effective game management from the head coach and backroom staff. Come on Munster!