Wednesday 21 March 2018

Battling Johnny showed what it takes to be a true Munster player

Johnny Holland forced to retire due hamstring injury last week
Johnny Holland forced to retire due hamstring injury last week

This week was a busy one as we got off to a winning start in the Pro12, began preparation to face Cardiff Blues tonight in Cork, and also moved into our new training centre in UL.

While all of that was good news, the squad was hit hard by the news that Johnny Holland is being forced to retire.

Johnny addressed us as a group early last week and his words displayed a remarkable maturity, poise and selflessness. He conveyed to the group the magnitude of playing with Munster and the honour and privilege it bestows.

In his press release Johnny alluded to the battle with his injury.

Johnny is a perfectionist when it comes to his training and lifestyle. His performances at the end of last season were a tribute to his diligence, work ethic, belief and ability. To perform to that level, in a pivotal position, while carrying a significant injury demands respect and deserves many plaudits.

By getting back playing and fulfilling a long-held goal of wearing the No 10 shirt for Munster, Johnny registered a remarkable victory in the 'battle' with his injury.

Johnny had the opportunity to quit before, but that was never an option he entertained. Only medical opinion has forced him to retire. Johnny won every battle in his control and illustrated what it takes to be a true Munster player.


This pre-season has seen an increased workload in an effort to increase each players' ability to train more intensely for increased periods. This has been facilitated by our relocation to Limerick with the advent of our high performance centre.

Our strength and conditioning coaches - consisting of charismatic, handsome Welshman Aled Walters and three passionate Corkonians Aidan O'Connell, PJ Wilson and Adam Sheahan - have delivered an enjoyable and stimulating program. The S&C staff often drive the humour and atmosphere within the squad.

The contribution of our S&C team cannot be overstated.

Darren Sweetnam has flourished and topped the charts for speed, fitness and strength. The Dunmanway dynamo has illustrated how fortunate Munster are that he chose rugby over hurling. He has translated his training form onto the pitch.

He is up there most naturally gifted athletes I have ever encountered.

The health and availability of the bulk of our squad help or hinder our progress throughout the season. Our physios Damien Morden, Keith Thornhill and Ray McGinley do tremendous work in this regard with very little acclaim.

We look forward to seeing our captain Peter O'Mahony back on the pitch soon. No doubting ye'll have him in fine fettle lads. No pressure.

Our new training centre is world-class. We no longer have any excuse when it comes to training facilities or travel. The days of makeshift gyms in classrooms seem a distant memory.

Saturday was a good start to our competitive season, with a victory in Llanelli for the first time in five years.

We prepared well for a Scarlets team littered with internationals and they enjoyed the lion's share of possession for the first 20 minutes.

We defended well and remained patient. Once we got an opportunity in their half we were extremely clinical with a well worked team try culminating in Tommy O'Donnell driving James Cronin over.

A fantastic opportunist try by Ronan O'Mahony put us in a fantastic position, but a momentary lapse in concentration defensively saw Gareth Davies score from his own half. A quick tap caught us unaware and he punished us severely with a fantastic run, grubber kick and finish.

Our second-half performance was solid and workmanlike. We managed the game well and heaped the pressure on Scarlets. Once Keats kicked a great penalty to put us ten points clear, I was confident we would see it through.

Tommy O'Donnell was immense, especially in defence. He put in some mammoth hits, setting the tone for us in the physical stakes.

John Ryan, at tighthead, and our wingers Ronan O'Mahony and Sweets were other standout performers for me.

Special mention to our scrum, which was a fantastic source of go-forward ball, which laid the foundation for our victory.

It was a special occasion for our three debutants. Dan Goggin looked very comfortable against an international midfield and got us over the gainline when given the opportunity.

Jean Kleyn added massive workrate and physical power when introduced. He looks to be a shrewd acquisition.

Brian Scott is a great prospect at prop. He's physically imposing and looked very comfortable at scrum time when introduced on Saturday.

On reviewing the game we highlighted many areas where we can make significant strides. Continual quest for improvement demands critical review. It is also vital that positive action is praised and encouraged.

After the review our thoughts immediately turned to the challenges Cardiff will pose. By Wednesday the bulk of physical and mental preparation is complete, leaving us a couple of days to relax, recover and build towards kick-off

Playing in Irish Independent Park is always fantastic. The proximity of the fans creates a great atmosphere and the surface is the best we play on in the Pro12. As a group we are determined to ensure we make home advantage tell. Our support has always been vital to any success we have enjoyed. See you in Cork.

Irish Independent

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