Friday 20 April 2018

Comment: Anthony Foley is carrying the can for system failures

Anthony Foley's career as a coach is on the line (Photo: SPORTSFILE)
Anthony Foley's career as a coach is on the line (Photo: SPORTSFILE)

Ger Gilroy

Anthony Foley will be the beneficiary of a lot of free advice in the next while. As Rassie Erasmus gets his feet under the table at Munster as Foley's de facto boss, the advice will distil down into, 'you have to stay' or 'you have to go'. Stay and fight your corner and be part of the solution or go immediately to save face. The advice is cheap but Foley's career as a coach is on the line.

As ever, things are a bit more nuanced. Foley's tenure at Munster has been pockmarked by poor performances with occasional flourishes that hint at a corner being turned. Largely there have been fairly obvious reasons for the failures, and generally the injury list has been excessive.

The trouble is Connacht have been crippled by injury and the team has always persisted. Foley's team has lacked a clear identity that would allow the fringe players to have a clarity in their purpose. The contrasts with Connacht are damning.

We had Johne Murphy in studio a while back and he contrasted the difference between Rob Penney's attitude to mistakes with Foley's. Penney was more akin to Pat Lam who encourages risk-taking in the name of progress. Foley less so.

It's a tiny piece of evidence in the case against Foley at Munster but maybe too it's easier for Penney and Lam who are from outside the tradition to see the changes that need to be made.


We throw our Irish coaches on the scrapheap whenever they fail. First Eddie O'Sullivan and then Declan Kidney raised the bar for what's to be expected by Irish coaches, then they had a wobble and were discarded from the Irish rugby scene.

Mark McCall was considered a failure at Ulster. He found redemption working away from home and is 80 minutes away from the first Irish-coached European Cup win in a decade.

Foley may be an excellent forwards coach and not cut out for being head coach, or he may be an excellent head coach somewhere else, or it's still possible, though unlikely, he can turn things around at Munster by working with Erasmus.

The Munster hierarchy, particularly their long-serving CEO Garrett Fitzgerald, have been confused in their messaging around this appointment. Fitzgerald has the most questions to answer given how long he's been in the job and the failings of the Munster academy to produce world-class talent. Sure there are clear economic reasons why the AIL has struggled in its traditional heartland in Munster but crisis requires brave thinking and ingenuity. Instead it appears Munster are being left behind by Connacht, while Leinster disappear over the horizon.

Foley is carrying the can for this. He clearly bears responsibility for what's happening on the field and he must shoulder that. He has to learn from it wherever he goes next but sacking a coach, or sidelining a coach, won't fix their problems. Maybe Erasmus is a genius and can fix things on the playing side quicker than it appears now. It appears that the administration is broken. Munster deserve better.

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