Sunday 16 June 2019

Anthony Foley calls on Munster players not to get emotional about Paul O'Connell departure

Munster coach wants to send O'Connell off in style with Pro12 trophy

Munster coach Anthony Foley is drawing on his experience from the 2006 Heineken Cup final
Munster coach Anthony Foley is drawing on his experience from the 2006 Heineken Cup final
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Anthony Foley knows a thing or two about preparing for finals from his playing days. He knows all about the distractions that can interfere with a player's preparation, the emotions that can bubble to the surface.

Throw in the knowledge that this Saturday's Guinness Pro12 final will be Paul O'Connell's last match in Munster red and the rookie coach has plenty on his plate.

As ever, the Killaloe native is keeping things on an even keel as he readies himself and his squad for the biggest game of their season.

It's been four years since Munster last reached a final and for a province who demand success, that is a mini-famine. O'Connell's departure will lessen the number of players who have tasted glory in red further, and victory over Glasgow would ease the process of passing the torch from one generation to another.

All in all, there is a lot at stake.

"A lot of these guys are getting to an age of 25, 26, 27 - a good age for a team to start looking to win trophies, to kick on with their careers, to try and get international careers, to look to establish themselves in teams and looking to be very ambitious in what they're doing," Foley said.


"If we can start with that and, hopefully, do something on Saturday, then that would be great. If we don't and we end up losing, it's not all doom and gloom. We've brought through a lot of players, we're in a good position in that everyone has a clear understanding of how we want to play and what are we looking to do around the game.

"It's a continuous progression. Pick up trophies, get pats on the back along the way - well and good, but for Munster we want to be in these competitions, to be in the knockout stages, to be in the finals and we want to be in with a chance of lifting silverware every year.

"Now, there's a lot of teams that want that as well and that's why it's so contested, so hopefully we can get there and get over the line, but it would be hell of a performance to get past Glasgow."

Foley is sweating on the fitness of three of the most important members of the next generation. Captain Peter O'Mahony is confident of making it back from a hip flexor injury, while Simon Zebo is touch and go as he goes through the concussion protocols.

Conor Murray looks highly unlikely to make it as he visits renowned knee specialist Ray Moran to discuss scans on his suspected medial ligament damage. While Foley refused to rule the influential scrum-half out, it looks like his season is over,

The coach has not addressed O'Connell's imminent departure with his squad, and by the sounds of things has little intention of doing so this week.

The Ireland captain has little truck with fanfare himself and the focus will be on carrying out each other's jobs in order to produce a performance.

"It wasn't spoken about last week, it hasn't been mentioned this week. Everyone's intelligent enough to understand the situation, to go about doing their job," Foley said.

"If we all do our jobs to the best of our ability, we'll get the outcome we deserve. If we start thinking about different things and getting distracted by it, getting emotional. . . then that's a negative; we want to stay on top of it and be positive around it and give it our best performance and see where that takes us."

Last weekend's win over Ospreys gave Foley plenty of food for thought after his side allowed the Welsh region back into the game from a dominant position.

"I don't want to be telling people what to do because every situation changes and there is different things that pops up," Foley said. "We have tried to encourage them to make decisions and be accountable to those decisions. If you make a mistake that is fine but make it on the positive side of it. Don't half-heartedly do something.

"It's just matching those decisions and being accountable for them -there's no coaches going in throwing hats off the wall or anything like that; we understand that mistakes happen when you're trying to try stuff.

"We're all on for having a go, but you have to be accountable."

Keatley has had bad days before this and has always bounced back. His coach is expecting him to show his strong resolve once again this week.

"After the game, all I would have said to him is he'll be judged on what he does next," Foley explained.

"You can't do anything about what's happened, you literally can't. You can beat yourself up, but the most important thing is how you turn up on Monday.

"He turned up on Monday and was running the show, turned up today and was running the show, so on Thursday I'd expect the same thing.

"You remember against Leinster, going into that game there were a lot of question marks around him. He came out and probably put in one of his best performances of the season. We'd like similar, but we'd understand if it's not as dominant as that, but if it is we'll be well happy."

As he reaches the end of a long and at times difficult first season, Foley wants his players to perform one last time and will be drawing on his own experiences to help them through.

"In 2006 before Biarritz, five of the pack didn't train earlier in the week," he recalled of Munster's first Heineken Cup win. "I was talking to Pat Lam and when they (Northampton) beat us in 2000 they cut a lot of their week of the final short.

"They're in their 48th week of work. It is a long time and it is about managing the occasion, managing the situation that we are in and making sure that we have got energy in the legs when we get up to Belfast so we can have a go at it."

Irish Independent

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