Friday 19 January 2018

Keatley gets chance to emerge from O'Gara shadow

Conor George

Conor George

SPARE a thought for Ian Keatley – it's not easy replacing an icon.

Tonight, at Musgrave Park in cork, Munster fans will finally begin life after Ronan O'Gara.

John Hayes retired and Munster survived. Before him Peter Clohessy hung up his boots and headed into the Limerick sunset. Anthony Horgan retired with 205 points scored, a total bettered only by place-kickers. Munster survived. Players retire. It's the natural cycle of professional sport.

But it's different when it's a player of O'Gara's standing and influence.

Rob Penney stated as much this week. You don't try and replace "the irreplaceable," but neither do you wallow.

Life without O'Gara starts for Munster tonight and that might just be the impetus Keatley needs to forge ahead and set the foundations for his own Munster legacy.

Leinster's Ian Madigan spoke this week about how he knew Sexton was first choice with the club and it didn't matter how well he performed in his absence. Keatley faced the same situation with Munster. When O'Gara was available, he started.

CONFIRMED

Penney afforded Keatley all the motivation he should need this week when he confirmed he will start the season as Munster's first-choice out-half.

The jersey is now his to keep or to lose. For a man of Keatley's ambition and ability, this is his moment and if he reaches out and grabs this opportunity he can, perhaps, grow into a dominant force for Munster, just as O'Gara was.

The last time Munster played Edinburgh he kicked six penalties and a conversation in a 30-3 victory in Musgrave Park. His hand was also on the tiller when Munster racked up a 33-0 Heineken Cup win last October.

Munster are without their big stars, but they have only lost one opening-day game since 2006 – at the hands of Glasgow Warriors in 2009.

Edinburgh should be tougher to break down this season, given the influence of new coach Alan Solomons, but they are struggling with a number of injury absentees, including captain Greig Laidlaw and free-scoring wing Tim Visser.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Edinburgh scrum-half Sean Kennedy, who moved with his family from Limerick to Scotland when he was 11.

Munster – D Hurley; R O'Mahony, C Laulala, I Dineen, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, Donncha O'Callaghan; Dave O'Callaghan, S Dougall, J Coughlan. Reps: D Varley, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, B Holland, T O'Donnell, C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, C Bohane.

Edinburgh – G Tonks; G Fife, N de Luca, B Atiga, L Jones; P Francis, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel; G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen; G Cox, R Grant, D Denton. Reps: A Lutui, G Cross, L Niven, O Atkins, H Watson, S Hidalgo-Clyne, H Leonard, J Cuthbert.

Ref– M Mitrea (Italy)

Munster v Edinburgh,

Live, tg4, 7.15

Irish Independent

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