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Anthony Foley says money is no object in pursuit of success for Munster

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Munster head coach Anthony Foley . Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Munster head coach Anthony Foley . Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Munster head coach Anthony Foley . Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

It has been one of those weeks down Munster way where the world and his mother are shining a light in on the province, looking for reasons and coming up with solutions.

That’s what happens when one of the traditional powers exits Europe with an insipid performance, introspection, blame and a need for change are top of the agenda.

All of which is a little awkward when you’re the head coach who is also one of the men who helped to create the Munster monster in the first place.

Now, Anthony Foley is dealing with talk of the end of his beloved province’s empire and it is not something he is willing to let happen without a fight.

Over the course of the week, former players have taken to the public arena to offer their opinions and, while the Killaloe man says he doesn’t read the newspapers or listen to the talk-shows, he seems pretty well informed.

Complaint

The chief complaint is that the province are no longer able to compete financially with the cash-rish, fame hungry big guns from France and the increasingly powerful English clubs who are beginning to flex some muscle in the market for southern hemisphere players.

Foley, however, claims money is not the issue. Restricted by the IRFU when it comes to the players he can target, the former No 8 says the fit must be right and that the right player is sometimes simply not available.

“I don’t know where that story has come from,” he said of the idea that Munster can’t compete financially. 

“I’ve never had a conversation with Garrett (Fitzgerald, Munster chief executive) who said, sorry, we can’t afford that.  When I tell Garrett the players I want, we do our best to get him. 

“Some didn’t want to leave their home country, some were still in contract so it’s important to know that is not the issue. It’s getting the player we think is right for Munster rugby.

“We go after players who can add value to our squad and great for other fellas to learn from such as the Dougie Howletts, John Langfords, Jean de Villiers, Jim Williamses and so on have been in the past.  

“They left their footprint in the place.  But we need more than that.  We can’t expect to compete if we’re down 19 players and a lot of them internationals.  You’re down in competition for the places, the impact off the bench.

“Nobody has used it as an excuse but out of a squad of 38 there will be 10 unavailable this week and that’s a lot to deal with.

“In terms of marquee signings, I deal with Garrett, he’s great at what he does and he has gone after players.  I swear to you, money is not an issue, it’s getting the player.  A lot of the players we have approached won’t leave their home country and that has nothing to do with money.”

Foley says he wouldn’t like to see Munster follow any other template and believes there would be a danger of diluting what made them special in the first place.

“I wouldn’t want to go down that (Toulon, Racing Metro) route anyway.  You want to have an identity within your squad and that identity comes from the indigenous player and his love for the jersey. 

“We’ve always gotten value from the player who buys into the jersey and finds a love for the place.  You get more performances out of that type of player at times than you do if you have a squad of fellas from different parts of the world.

“Each to his own, if you like.  We’re trying to get the best squad available for Munster, some will be indigenous, some Irish, some overseas but all will have to be in a position to add value to the team more than the current squad.”

Problem

An enduring problem for the two-time champions has been the slowing production line.

Although they insist that the players in their academy are strong enough to maintain the standards set in the last decade, the return of just four players – the lowest of the four provinces – in the Ireland U-20 squad named yesterday is disappointing.

That just re-emphasises the despair some fans feel about the JJ Hanrahan situation.

The Kerry native is a shimmering diamond in the Munster set-up alongside Jack O’Donoghue, but he has opted to cross the Irish Sea in search of gametime at No 10.

Yesterday, he followed his coach into the press conference hot-seat and articulated his reasons for opting to move to Northampton Saints.

“I’m fully comfortable with the decision,” he said. “The longer the time goes on and the more I’m kind of sinking into it.

“In any big life decision... you could use the example of breaking up with a girlfriend. It might be for the best but at the time you’re still disappointed. You’re better down the line, you know what I mean?

“You’re Munster growing up, you want to be there and you’ve seen a big future. Obviously your dreams are playing for Munster, but when you make your decision, you base it on what’s best for your career or your development going forward.

“I’m incredibly ambitious and that’s what my decision was based on.

“Ultimately, the best thing for my development would be to be in Northampton next year in terms of opportunities to play, opportunity in terms of the new challenge, new environment.  I suppose becoming a stronger character as well. Going into a new environment like that, you have to become a really strong character.

“If you’re ambitious to play for Ireland, you have to be a strong character and mentally tough. I suppose it’ll develop that side of the game as well.”

Asked if he felt there was a danger of being out of sight and out of mind from an Ireland perspective, Hanrahan said he had taken it into account in his decision.

“It was something that I really weighed up,” he explained. “The way I see it is that you have to be playing to be in the reckoning for Ireland, and that’s the main thing. It’s about playing, do you know what I mean?

“Luckily I’m 22 years of age so there is a long way to go in my career yet. So there is a lot that happens so we’ll see how it goes.”

Since the Hanrahan announcement, Munster have moved to tie down some more of their players and yesterday added Tomas O’Leary on a two-year deal as well as signing Andrew Conway, Johnny Holland, Darren Sweetnam (all two-years) and Dave O’Callaghan (one-year) up on new deals. Eusebio Guinazu has committed to the end of the season.

There is still no white smoke on a new contract for Peter O’Mahony, who has indicated his desire to stay,

Munster fans are awaiting a bigger announcement, a marquee name to put bums on seats and lift things after Saturday’s disappointment.

Meanwhile the team must get back on the horse and play Sale on Sunday without CJ Stander who is out for four-to-six weeks and probably Conor Murray and Simon Zebo as well.

“We know ourselves we let ourselves down,” Foley concluded. “We don’t need anybody else telling us that. I think we’re all clued in enough to understand that.

“I think the people that read the papers are the people that have supported us throughout our careers and have looked after us and they’re the ones probably getting the hurt out of that and if anything will drive us this Sunday, it’s to get a smile on the people that really care about us.

“That will be the real motivation.”

Online Editors