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Flannery: Leinster must keep focus

"LIVING the dream. Retired before 40. Isn't that what everyone wants?" laughed former Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery.

The Limerick man, still just 33, has known the pain of injury and has to deal with the lingering thoughts of where he could still be, were it not for a calf injury 'officially' ending his career prematurely last week.

The Grand Slam and two-time Heineken Cup winner will take many unforgettable memories away from the game. Many more great than bad.

But, the one that still rankles is that delivered by Leinster in the Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park in 2009. It was a case of the no-hopers turning into superheroes.

Munster were seen as travelling an unstoppable path to European domination, of a third Heineken Cup in four years. They always seemed to have Leinster's number in the big ones. The 2006 semi-final bolts to mind.

In a flash, it all changed. Rocky Elsom bounded about. Jonathan Sexton announced himself as the coming force at fly-half. Gordon D'Arcy slithered for the first try. Luke Fitzgerald fizzed for the second. Brian O'Driscoll picked Ronan O'Gara's pocket for the third.

"We still struggle with it like a horrible incident from your past. We looked at that game and looked at that game. We had senior players' meetings about that game," said Flannery.



Massive

"I would hate to think we went in there not mentally prepared. We spent all year thinking about Leinster. The two wins over them before the semi-final were massive for us. They were never taken for granted.

"We went out there and, without doubt, Leinster outplayed us completely. Our set-piece worked quite well, our lineout and our scrum.

"Leinster just did their homework on us so completely. We felt so powerless when we played the game. There were certain plays we had used that would always give us good go-forward against them. They didn't work.

"It was hard to take. They did a really good job at nullifying us. What Wales did to Ireland in the World Cup (last year) reminded me of it."

Flannery drew a parallel line with the confidence surrounding Ireland before Wales brought them to their knees in last year's World Cup quarter-final in Wellington.

"Ireland were using a good game plan in New Zealand," he said. "It was being very effective. It was difficult to stop. Yet, Wales did a really good job in chopping down Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris when they came around the corner.

"It stopped Ireland's momentum that day. Wales really did a job on them. And that was what Leinster did to us in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final."

Three years later, Leinster are now where Munster were then, chasing a third Heineken Cup in four years. Cardiff Blues stand in their way. They would do well to take care.

However, Wales captain Sam Warburton is out for Cardiff. British & Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts has fallen by the wayside. Cardiff have won one out of their last 10 against Leinster. They must rank as the weakest team left in the competition.

Therein lies the danger: "If you can focus on the process going into the game, then you should be okay," said Flannery.

"If you drift away from that you could be in danger. If you start to think 'they're missing two of their best players', 'our form is better than theirs', 'we should win this one', then you are not focusing on what you need to do."

Leinster just need to focus on what they do well.

"It is something I learned over the years with Munster. You need to concentrate on what you do well and can do best to exploit that on the opposition. We used to have a problem at Munster where we would win a big Heineken Cup game and then lose to, say, the Dragons away in the Magners League.

"What we always thought is that we had to get into a position where we were consistent. Leinster are doing that really well now."



Praise

There is special praise reserved for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt for the way he has nurtured strength in depth and meaningful competition for game time.

"You only have to look at Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss at scrum-half, (Richardt) Strauss and (Sean) Cronin at hooker, (Ian) Madigan coming through with (Jonathan) Sexton, and (Eoin) O'Malley and Ferg (McFadden) with Darce (Gordon D'Arcy) and Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) in the centre.

"Joe Schmidt has developed competition for places, by constantly changing, and isn't afraid to freshen it up. They are in a good place."

They just have to stay there.


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