Tuesday 20 March 2018

Five things we learned from Munster's Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification

O'Mahony insists Munster can upset odds and secure Thomond quarter-final in 'bizarre' cup

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony speaking during a press conference
Munster captain Peter O'Mahony speaking during a press conference
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster's teak-tough attitude helped them to the victory over Gloucester they needed to secure qualification for the last eight but what habe we learned about Rob Penney's men.


Munster's remarkable record of reaching 15 quarter-finals (emulating Toulouse) is deserving of more credit than it has achieved in many quarters.

Nevertheless, there must still be a sense of gnawing regret within the club at the 12 anarchic minutes of madness that cost them an opening-day defeat against this weekend's concluding qualifying opponents, Edinburgh.

However, given their extraordinary efforts at Harlequins last season, Munster know that going on the road may not necessarily be fatal to their chances of progress as they prepare to advance towards yet more knockout drama.

"Look, we've got to go to Thomond Park next weekend and we've got to put in a performance," says Peter O'Mahony, whose response since that opening-day defeat has been to treat every game like a cup final.

"We're going to have to get a good win and then it's whatever happens after that. There's another game to go in this competition and we all know it's a bizarre competition at times and there's things here and there, you can never be sure.

"We've got to go and attack next week, we've Edinburgh at home. We have to get stuck in and put in a good performance."


Munster would much prefer a home quarter-final for sporting reasons, but also to help their bottom line.

If one adds in the cost of travelling -- perhaps to France -- and what they will cede in terms of gate receipts, their late collapse in Murrayfield has probably cost them the guts of €150,000 in terms of lost ticket sales and hospitality benefits. They will still pick up a six-figure share of the away quarter-final ticket receipts but, with a Limerick home tie worth €10m to the local economy, the prospect of maximising revenue all round is conceded when home advantage is ceded too.

The IRFU will also be out of pocket-- they would trouser around €200,000 of any prospective Limerick quarter-final, in addition to the €450,000 already snaffled from the ERC's meritocracy payment pot.

Although a reported €650,000 summer loss was better news than the previous season's €1m plus, it still represented a deficit and, in the current climate of European rugby's economic civil war, Munster's accounts reflect two obvious realities.

Even though heavily subsidised by their Union overlords, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Irish provinces to turn a profit despite ongoing success.

And, crucially, were Ireland to be cut adrift from their Heineken Cup lifeline, the economic calamity that would accrue scarcely bears thinking about.


Munster may not have much moolah in the coffers -- but Ian Keatley's credit has risen sharply after a Round 5 performance in forbidding Kingsholm that his coach reckoned was his best yet in a red jumper.

It was clear to see how he and his team mutually fed off his growing clout, something he will seek to authoritatively frank this weekend.

"I didn't expect anything else from him," says O'Mahony, alluding to the strong mental riposte to an indifferent display in Ravenhill a week earlier.

"He's a huge character for us and he's a top-class footballer. I think every out-half you talk to, they have a couple of bad days with the boot and tactically, so I didn't expect anything else from him, he was class."


The efforts of Keith Earls and, particularly, Paul O'Connell, in Gloucester reminded all down south, and beyond, that it would represent supreme folly for the IRFU to weaken Munster by allowing one or both to leave.

As he did in the Stoop last season, O'Connell inspired his emerging side to another significant win on English soil when so many doubted them.

It is simply inconceivable that the talisman could wear another club's jersey.

O'Mahony is the official captain -- and he has no problem with O'Connell being the de facto leader.

"He was awesome for us, like he always is," enthused the Corkman. "He was leading the charge for a couple of other fellas to follow.

"For me as captain it's great to have someone like that around, just to get his thinking on decisions. Hearing what he has to say is always so important.

"Paulie has been captaining teams for 20 years at this stage. I'm only in the door compared to how long he's been here, so every bit of advice and every bit of help that I can get off him, I'll take it."

Nobody wants O'Connell to leave -- least of all the player himself. The sooner this is sorted the better for all.


Were the ERC to tack on a 105th venue and decree that Munster's quarter-final were to be played in the Amazon rainforests of Brazil or towards the summit of the Gangkhar Puensum Mountain in Bhutan, you can bet your bottom-most euro that the red hordes would be the first to arrive.

Last weekend, they kidnapped vast swathes of the Kingsholm 'Shed', much to the chagrin of the faithful locals whose turf was unceremoniously occupied.

Munster supporters continue to be Trojan horses in their ability to acquire tickets; many of those last weekend secured tickets that Gloucester would have preferred to keep for home supporters.

"Our supporters were off the wall again," enthuses captain O'Mahony. "They turn up each and every time, spending a lot of money in this day and age and they do it every time. We can't thank them enough."

"Taking over the Shed like that, it's mad. That place has a big reputation and to come out... we were only walking around at the start and there were chants of 'Munster' and the whole lot going on, it was bizarre but we can't thank them enough.

"They'll stick with us hopefully."

Irish Independent

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