Sunday 19 May 2019

Comment: Money talks but it doesn't dance the rolling maul

Darren Sweetnam goes over for Munster’s second try against the Ospreys. The Corkman could be the best full-back anywhere if he is given the chance. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Darren Sweetnam goes over for Munster’s second try against the Ospreys. The Corkman could be the best full-back anywhere if he is given the chance. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Munster will be up far past their play-time next Saturday when they take on Leicester in the Champions Cup.

The game starts at 7.45pm which means the final whistle will blow about two hours later.

This was mad planning but what would you expect from the TV companies who dictate working conditions because they pay the big money?

TV has messed up the fun of the Six Nations with games on late on Friday nights. Most of the Six Nations travelling supporters will be forced to take at least one day off work and by the time the game is over, it's nearly time for bed.

More of the games are played on Sunday afternoons when we watch GAA, or take brisk walks in the countryside or snores on the sofa.

TV cares little for the social fabric of the game. There will be a few shots of the handful or so of travelling soldiers clustered together in tiny platoons.

This is an old War of Independence stratagem employed by Michael Collins who always pretended he had more fighters than he actually had. TV seldom sees the big picture.

A good few of the Munster fans face a long journey home in winter time, driving late at night. Even though Limerick is very much our spiritual home, our home support is from all over the province.

To be fair, Sky, in particular, do a great job. The camera work and commentary is excellent. Stuart Barnes is well disposed towards Munster and Irish teams in general.

He understands why we are the way we are but I will ask him how was it Conor Murray wasn't nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year?

Murray was the outstanding back all year and, dare I say it, Jonathan Sexton was the best out-half.

Brian O'Driscoll had a vote. I'd like to hear what he has to say. Maro Itoje, fine player that he is, didn't even start for the Lions. Murray was very badly treated.

Congratulations, though, to Joy Neville for winning Referee of The Year. She will be reffing Six Nations and World Cups before long.

In a wonderful interview with our own Vincent Hogan, Joy stated: "I'd love to see the day when it's not news." Well said.

Thomond is near enough to sold-out for next weekend, but in the right way. There's nowhere better on big European nights. Limerick is the only city anywhere where every citizen is part of the sporting occasion.

And Joy, as you well know, the Munster women know the game inside out. There is a massive female support. Only Mayo rival Munster for that.

Leicester are one of the few teams to have beaten us in Limerick. Usually we knock on more often in the dress rehearsals than the waiter in an ice -rink but this time out we go in to the Tigers game after a big win on Saturday night over the Ospreys at Irish Independent Park.

Munster were very good in the first half especially. Word from the camp has it that new coach Johann van Graan isn't interfering too much at present. Johann seems to have placed his trust in Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones.

Rassie was very good organiser and was preparing Munster for his departure some time before he left after his Erasmus year.

Rassie took our defence coach Jacques Nienaber along with him. Munster are now without a defence coach and this is a major concern within the squad.

But the systems are in place and will last for a time anyway until the memory of the day-to-day coaching fades away as has always happened in sport. Andy Farrell stepped in as locum. No better man. He is the best there is at what he does.

Van Graan spoke of strengthening the squad. He said: "The full-back is a position we might fill from the inside or the outside."

Well Johann, you need look no further than Darren Sweetnam who will be the best full-back anywhere if he is given the chance.

Sweetnam is fast, a good tackler, very good in the air and he is a fine kicker.

Jacob Stockdale had a spectacular November, but for me Sweetnam was the stand-out rookie. He possesses the kind of solidity and natural GAA footballing instincts so loved by Joe Schmidt. Sweetnam should be given as much game-time as possible at full-back from here on in.

We will be sad to see Simon Zebo leave. What I would like to know, is did he really want to go? The same question can be asked of Donnacha Ryan who was retired from international rugby more because of his age than his performances which have been excellent.

I respect the players' entitlement to privacy but the feeling in Munster is that the IRFU did not go far enough in ensuring our best players are kept at home. We need more clarity.

There are so many factors at play when it comes to staying or leaving. The harvest lasts but a few years and then as we all know what seems like big money today reduces as the years go by.

It's nearly impossible for young couples to own their houses in cities such as Cork and Dublin.

Munster are not cash-rich and you do not have the same level of wealthy benefactors that there are in Leinster.

I know Munster are working on a financial model whereby a mix of IRFU, Munster and corporate cash will bring us somewhere near the levels of the French.

I would also suggest a ring-fenced players' wages fund to be financed by the fans in return for nothing but the love of Munster.

The economy is improving and if 26,000 people, the capacity of Thomond, paid in €200 a year, well then that would make all the difference and allow Munster to compete.

The one constant though is that the wearing of the Munster jersey was always more than about money. We still own our tradition of never, ever lying down.

Money talks but it doesn't sing 'Stand up and Fight' or dance the rolling maul.

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