Hugh Farrelly: McGahan rises above vicious web of abuse
THERE is an episode from 'The West Wing' which came to mind this week when charting the reaction to Munster coach Tony McGahan's decision to return to Australia at the end of the season.
In it, White House deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman is irritated by a post on an internet chat room set up in his honour and decides to respond.
"It's a bad idea," says his assistant.
"You don't know these people."
"Neither do you."
"Yes, I do. Some of them haven't taken their medication, let's watch what happens now," she adds, as Lyman posts his response.
Minutes later, Lyman calls back his assistant.
"Something weird has happened," he says. "They don't seem to have taken my response in the spirit in which it was intended.
"It seems to be a very unusual social structure ... for instance, there's a leader who seems to pride herself on her organisational skills and a certain amount of discipline ... 'You posted in the wrong place ... Stay on topic, people ... Don't use capital letters ... I don't have time to tell you twice,' when clearly she does have time to tell us twice. It's 'Lord Of The Flies' in there."
That episode was made a decade ago, but not much has changed and there is a degree of pomposity among web contributors that never fails to amuse.
Spending the majority of your day online has to create a false sense of reality and you wonder, for example, how much solace the Houstons actually derived from 'Spud92', who posted a heartfelt message after the singer's death: "Our thoughts are with Whitney's family at this difficult time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."
McGahan was arguably subjected to more online scorn than any other figure in Irish rugby over the past few years.
Posting your opinions online is great fun (hence all the smiley faces), but abuse tends to be the currency of choice and the air of impregnability that comes with being able to lurk behind false names allows it to be dispensed with vitriolic abandon.
With no sense of accountability, there is also the opportunity to swap positions at the drop of an index finger and McGahan was being roundly praised for his contribution to Munster rugby this week by the same crew that were viciously calling for his head a year ago.
McGahan was a straight shooter during his time in charge and hopefully ignored all the knee-jerk reaction that accompanies an era when everybody has a platform.
The Australian's only concern should have been with winning the respect and approval of his players and peers. He achieved that many times over and his reputation is evidenced by the fact he is now wanted by an Australian national side that would not have registered him a couple of years ago.
McGahan's response to last year's Heineken Cup pool exit has been well documented and the only pity is that he is leaving just as he laid the foundations for a bright future.
There is still an opportunity to realise that future before he departs and Munster will resume their Heineken Cup campaign in April backboned by an overwhelming desire to give McGahan a suitable send-off.
Even if that does not happen, and it could be a little soon in this squad's development, the province owes McGahan a tremendous debt of gratitude.
A debilitating injury list may have forced his hand, to an extent, when it came to giving youngsters their chance, but he had still shown a willingness to bring talent through and has been the greatest evolutionary influence on the province since Declan Kidney first came on board in the late 1990s.
It took some time but McGahan got to the pitch of what makes Munster work and a big-name overseas replacement such as Wayne Smith, although looking good on paper, would require time to get to the same level.
Whoever is appointed they will be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny as his predecessor.
It is a forlorn hope that this will arrive with balance attached across the board(s), but while it is impossible to completely ignore the internet adjudication process, it can be at least placed in perspective.
"What's wrong with them?" asked a distraught Lyman after his online experience went pear-shaped.