McGahan paving the way for bright future at Munster, says Dowling
Munster's future is bright, says former winger Ian Dowling, and Saturday's clash with Heineken Cup champions Leinster is an ideal opportunity to end the season on a high.
Munster go into the Magners League Grand Final at Thomond Park as underdogs, while Leinster are on the verge of an unprecedented double.
However, the double Heineken Cup-winning Dowling, who was forced to retire from rugby earlier this year due to injury, has "no doubt" that Munster have the capacity to cause an upset.
"It's a real challenge," said Dowling. "But this is a chance for Munster to salvage something and end the season on a high, and I have no doubt we can do it. We are at home, in front of a full house and this is a chance to put right the set-backs of the season. No better time."
Munster's exit from the pool stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time in 12 years, followed by defeat in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup to Harlequins, allied to Leinster's European success has led to gloomy predictions for the southern province, but Dowling is positive about the future.
"It's been said we are living in Leinster's shadow and there has been talk of the downfall of Munster. People are always going to have their opinions, but they can be sensationalist.
"Leinster are the form team of the season, no question. They have consistently brought it out in big matches and the results have shown that.
"But I'm convinced the future is bright for Munster. I think Tony McGahan has done a great job blooding youngsters. They have come in and enjoyed themselves and learned a lot.
"When you take away the Harlequins game, there were matches against the Scarlets, Brive and Leinster where we had to come from behind and get the result and those experiences have to stand to you.
"There are new players coming through in every area of the team. In the front-row there's Mike Sherry and Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle and Dave Foley in the second-row and Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell in the back-row. Conor Murray and Declan Cusack at half-back and there's Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo and Felix Jones in the backline, so it's really exciting."
Dowling was hugely impressed with Leinster's performance last weekend and in particular their right-winger Shane Horgan, a player he faced many times during his own career.
"I thought Horgan was brilliant on Saturday," said the 28-year-old. "He's been around a long time now but he's still on top of his game and when Leinster were really struggling in the first half, he was the one consistent performer.
"He's lethal on those kick-offs, it's his speciality claiming high balls. I don't think you man-mark him, you try to see which way the restart is going and put two players there to increase your chances of a clear jump.
"He's definitely in the mix for the World Cup but there's a lot of competition for the wing between Tommy (Bowe), Keith Earls, Andrew Trimble and Luke (Fitzgerald)."
Dowling has just completed the first year of a four-year physiotherapy course at the University of Limerick and is trying to keep as active as possible.
"It was very hard waking up and realising your sporting career is over, but I was fortunate enough to go straight into exams so there was no time really to let it wreck my head," he said.
"I certainly have enough experience of physio treatment, I know what works and what doesn't. It's really enjoyable and going well. The long-term plan is to hopefully set up my own place in Kilkenny.
"I'm trying to stay as active as I can and playing a lot of golf at Castletroy, although I can't walk the course, I have to use a buggy. I'm doing the Paul Darbyshire cycle (June 19-23) and got the bike out the other day for a spin out to Birdhill and the gears went on me.
"I went out full of confidence and next thing I'm battling into a howling gale with a bust bike!"