We can't keep saying we'll deliver in a few years' time - Flannery
Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30
A second Heineken Cup final defeat in three seasons left Munster with the perennial 'bridesmaid' tag and although the expectations within the province were on the cusp of changing, they weren't fully realised until they finally got their hands on the European Cup in 2006.
Fast-forward 10 years and those expectations have drastically changed on the back of further successes.
Jerry Flannery has seen Munster develop from the inside and out. As a player, he was central to both European titles, but when he retired he refocused his attention on his strength and conditioning role with Arsenal.
Now in his third year as the province's scrum coach, the passion with which he speaks about Munster makes it easy to see why Rassie Erasmus was so keen to have him as part of his backroom staff.
Success breeds success, or so Munster would have hoped, but they are now entering their sixth season without a trophy.
Few would felt have last season's failures as much as Flannery and Anthony Foley, but the former hooker believes that the expectations on the players nowadays have moved to a new level.
"Whenever I speak to the players, they're under a huge amount of pressure compared to when I played," Flannery says. "When I came in to Munster myself, the expectation was get into a semi-final, a final, the fans get a big day out, that's awesome.
"When I got into the team then, and we'd get to a semi or a final, I'd hear the fans saying 'if you'd only Gaillimh (Galwey) or Claw (Clohessy). . .' and I used to go 'they didn't win a f***ing European Cup'.
"I was sick of people talking about Gaillimh and Claw. I wanted them to talk about my Munster team. Then we eventually won.
"It wasn't a case of after two years when Gaillimh and Claw went, that people said 'we'll get rid of Paulie (O'Connell) and (Donncha) O'Callaghan and sack the coaches', because that benchmark wasn't there. We won in 2006 but that team was together for the bones of five or six years.
"2006 goes on to 2008, we win another one. We win the league in 2009. That was the best team I played in, even though we got hockeyed by Leinster in Croke Park. Then we managed to get across the line in 2011 but succession planning wasn't great.
"You had all these new young players coming through and being told 'win, that's what we do'. And when they didn't win, it was 'we don't recognise these players, get rid of them, they're useless', but they were probably better than those guys were in 2002 and 2003."
Dwindling attendances and the lack of any marquee signings have left Munster scrambling for a return to former glories.
The arrival of Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber (left) is a decent start but their fortunes are unlikely to change overnight.
"It is really tough," Flannery admits. "When I was over at Arsenal, I came back for the quarter-final against Toulouse. I went with my mates and couldn't get over how much of a buzz it was, I said it was like the old days, watching Munster seven years ago.
"Then I came back over the following week, covering Glasgow in Thomond Park for TG4, and there was no-one there. I was like 'this is so deflating'.
"Last year was so depressing. It has been difficult. The last two years for me were really, really difficult.
"But if the players continue to perform how they have over the summer, I have confidence. We want to put something together that's sustainable and gets the fans confident."
Munster's squad hasn't changed much since last season and with the experienced players another year older, Flannery understands the importance of delivering now and not further down the line.
"You can't say 'look, we'll get there in five or six years' time'," he says. "I remember Paulie in the dressing-room once. We'd lost to Biarritz, and he said 'we can't be saying next year, we'll be back', You'll run out of years.
"We have to get to a level now where the supporters are on-side, and that's being in touching distance of silverware every single year."
Erasmus feels as if he has a squad strong enough to compete for silverware this season. Flannery knows what it takes for Munster to do so but he also knows that the clock is ticking.