End Of An Era For Munster?

Amidst all the fury, hype and hyperbole in the aftermath of Munster’s beating at the hands of Toulon on Sunday, it was perhaps the comments of Toulon President Mourad Boudjellal before the match which cut the deepest:

“The fact is that today Munster is financed by the IMF {International Monetary Fund]”

Boudjellal of course was speaking in jest but his comments also undoubtedly ring partly true. Munster have a brand sparkling new stadium in Thomond Park and a colossal wage bill to pay off in the short to medium term. Money now is a dominant issue and there is no escaping the fact that money or the lack of it is a huge issue for all organisations in Ireland today.

Money has always been important in the Professional era you may say. How then did Munster win the European Cup twice in recent years?

Throughout Munster’s hugely successful past decade, they have relied on a kind of parochialism and pride in the jersey which is a welcome relic from the days of Amateurism. Munster conquered Europe twice with players for the most part born and bred in the province.

Men like Galway, Clohessy, Crotty, Horgan and Halvey from the original Munster team which reached the final in 1999 all stemmed from the Amateur days and played for Munster as if their lives depended on it.

These men then passed the torch on to the current generation of superstars such as O’ Connell, O’ Callaghan and O’ Gara who reached glory ably assisted by top class recruits such as Howlett, Halstead and Payne.

The truth is that the only way Munster can be successful is by ensuring that the team is largely made up of home grown players. In the past, the lure of the red jersey was enough to ward off the interest of large French and English clubs.

A rugby players career is short however and the money on offer outside Ireland is colossal now. A player of the calibre of Earls or O’ Connell could guarantee a healthy future for themselves by signing a lucrative contract with a Top 14 side such as Toulon.

In the past Munster have held on to their established stars and lost only fringe players such as Jeremy Staunton and Mick O’ Driscoll. The recent signing of Paul Warwick however by Stade Francais is a worrying development.

The loss of Warwick, albeit not catastrophic, represents the first occasion that a Munster first choice player has chosen to leave the province. The Australian Warwick may not feel the same attachment to the province as a man from the Ennis Road but it’s a milestone nonetheless.

The tough job for Munster is in ensuring that the team remains competitive whilst at the same time not bankrupting the organisation by overpaying to keep top players. It’s a nigh on impossible task and the only way Munster can pull it off is by ensuring that a top class academy system is in place.

Thus, even if an O’ Callaghan is tempted away, the likes of an Ian Nagle is in place to slot into his role. The encouraging sign for Munster is that a new crop of players such as Nagle, Holland and Ronan are on hand. The test now is whether they are of the high standard required to replace the likes of Wallace and Hayes.

The denouement then is that it’s not all doom and gloom for Munster. The reserve side beat the Wallabies in November whilst Munster also stand tall at the top of the Magner’s League. An exceptional record of 12 consecutive Quarter Final appearances was bound to end at some stage and unfortunately Sunday was that day.

Alarming as it sounds, Sunday then might be quite good in fact, because it might be sobering for the province to realise we are in a completely new era where money dominates. One need only look at the star studded multinational Toulon starting XV to realise this.

The only way for Munster to topple the giants of Europe once again is by ensuring that a home grown core of players exist who remain passionate and committed to the Red Jersey.

Hard work, toil and sweat are the sure fire remedies which can restore Munster to past glories. If Munster can retain that spirit, then victory will surely await in the not too distant future.


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