Sunday 22 September 2019

Tony Ward: A little patience can help Hanrahan take game to next level

JJ Hanrahan of Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan of Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

In 2010 John Joseph Hanrahan was part of a particularly talented Rockwell College group led by then Ireland schools lock Shane Buckley. Hanrahan, along with Cian O'Donnell and Buckley, were central to the Munster schools inter-provincial side that season.

That Rockwell squad also included other richly-talented sportsmen in All-Ireland champion javelin thrower Tom Doyle, basketball international Sean McCarthy (nephew of former great Mick Galwey), Tipp minor hurler Ross Mullane and Kerry minor footballer Donagh McGillycuddy.

It was a squad coached by Mark Butler which made it through to the final before falling at the last hurdle to PBC Cork.

It was a golden phase for Rockwell rugby and the resurrection of a sleeping giant as the Holy Ghost school made it to five successive finals and six in all between 2009 and 2015, taking the coveted trophy back to Cashel three more times in that period.

And when it came to pressure, whether wearing 10 or 12, the young, multi-talented sportsman from Currow was already an eye-catching prospect.

I recall the semi-final that year and Hanrahan (right) breaking Castletroy hearts when nailing a drop goal in the final seconds to take his school into yet another final.

He was a star in the making. Of course it is always difficult to gauge whether any young player, irrespective of talent, will eventually make it but there is no denying it is one hell of a start.

So many other factors come into play when the controlled environment of underage rugby is taken away but in terms of raw talent the latest off that remarkable Currow sporting line had it in abundance.

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I think it worth recalling that background now and while not delving too deeply into the reasons for leaving and heading to Franklin's Gardens in 2015, I think it fair to say that it was a no-win move.

He is back now where he is most comfortable but with a case still to prove. As of now, and despite the occasional glimpse of what lies within, the jury remains out.

In all the talk surrounding Joey Carbery and where he might go to further his career from an international perspective, it is ironic that Ulster is presumed the logical port of call.

I say ironic because as of now I see in Johnny McPhillips an out-half of substance going forward. So too Jack Carty in Connacht and indeed at Leinster with the Byrne brothers Ross and Harry, plus Ciaran Frawley as shadow cover for Johnny Sexton.

In theory Munster have three out-halves from which to choose but I defy anyone to say with certainty which of Hanrahan, Ian Keatley or Tyler Bleyendaal (and we're not forgetting Bill Johnston - another from the Rockwell conveyor belt) is the definitive number one.

To that end opportunity knocks and this afternoon at the RDS, in Munster's biggest match of the season, given what transpired against Racing in the Bordeaux semi-final, the need is for a steady hand at the tiller to see them challenge 'the king in his castle'.

Essential for Munster today is a Ronan O'Gara-type pulling the strings. A Sexton, not a Carbery; a Campbell not a Ward.

Forgive the comparison but when I look at Hanrahan now I see a definite image of myself post Australia 1979.

It was a time when I wanted so hard to prove myself to myself as well as to everybody else all over again.

To some degree I succeeded but in retrospect if I could tell the 25-year-old Tony then what I know now, my advice to the 25-year-old JJ would be along these lines:

First of all he should re-assess where he is at and indeed where Munster need to be heading.

The need is for consistent direction from the game manager pulling the strings.

No team and certainly no forward unit responds to go-forward promptings from their out-half better than a Munster pack.

Yes, there is a crying need for greater inventiveness in midfield but from the Hanrahan perspective that has to evolve and not be forced.

In recent games, when given the lead part, he has kicked reasonably well out of hand and particularly well off the ground, but his general running of the game has seen him caught three times in possession when crabbing across the field and I speak as the acknowledged expert in that art.

Here again it comes out of trying too hard and certainly from trying to create something much too soon.

That is not to say a gap, or in modern parlance a mismatch, might not occur early but it is better still to box clever and borrow from the master by the name of Sexton when it comes to luring the opposition into a false sense of security.

David Humphreys never got the credit he deserved for the great out-half he was, particularly when at his best.

I see traits of Humphreys in Hanrahan but in order to get to that level I would urge the current Munster incumbent to tap into the O'Gara/Sexton psychological game of patience when doing the basics and the cream will follow.

Today is a massive test of character, not in terms of ability. We know that potential is there, but it's important how the occasion is handled and all the pressure that entails.

What Johann van Graan, Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones need more than anything is consistency in the basics from their playmaker. Do that and a break or two might just follow. That left peg of Rory Scannell alongside him isn't too shabby either.

If ever the time was right for John Joseph to come of age, this is it.

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