Why Munster Should Look To The AIL To Rebuild Their Province
The decline of Munster Rugby has been in the headlines all too often in recent weeks.
Many have argued as to where the problem lies and whether or not Munster should have foreseen this coming. It began with the argument that Munster were unlucky to lose so many top names in such a short period of time and term ‘transitionary period’ was deemed acceptable. Now i’m not arguing against the use of that term. Munster are in a transitionary period. My issue is, what will the current set-up afford them to transition into?
For many years club rugby provided Munster with a platform to built and nurture talent. The club scene was vibrant and refreshing. When an up and coming talent finished up with schools rugby he was bred straight into the club game. The AIL become known as one of the best academies in Europe, able to breed not only provincial players but internationals and even Lions. It was within the club game where players learned the values of the game. The club game introduced players to the physicality of senior rugby, it taught them the importance of the crest on their jersey, it taught them the importance of trusting the player beside you and giving him the confidence to trust you. The system was real. It didn’t have the artificial feel that the current system has. Players weren’t built on an assembly line, players were handcrafted.
Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, Alan Quinlan, Denis Leamy, Anthony Foley all honed their craft in the depths of the AIL. As George Hook so beautifully put it “In a physical game like rugby union, there is no substitute for a brutal apprenticeship.”The current batch of young players never really got to understand the physical demands as they came through the ranks. They were artificially farmed through a lacklustre academy and ‘A’ league system.
Mick Galwey is another veteran of the game who came through the rough and tumble of the club system. He was part of the famous four in a row Shannon squad. Galwey is a huge advocate of the importance of the AIL.
The club really was the feeder for the inter-provincial game which is now the professional game. And when the clubs go weak, there’s no feeders. Then you’re depending on schools. And I think there’s too much of a gap. If you look at the strongest feeders to the professional game now, it’s the schools. Whereas before, it was the clubs and I thought it was a much better system.
I was finished playing when Munster won their first Heineken Cup in 2006 and the previous week Shannon won the All-Ireland League. You know, that’s not a coincidence. The club game produced all these players that won Heineken Cups for Munster. The teams in 2006 and 2008, each and everyone of them played for their clubs, each and everyone of them played in the top level in the AIL. And I’d say if you go through it, most of them would have won AIL. That was their grounding, that was where they learned the trade to play rugby.
The issue Munster may have found themselves in however is perhaps it’s now too late? The glory days of the AIL seems like a distant memory and no more. How can Munster restore their feeder clubs to the force they once were? I’m not aware of how the current system works internally so perhaps my comments may sound an easier possibility than they are in reality but I’m gonna take a swing at it anyway.
- First and foremost Munster need to withdraw from the B&I Cup. It’s a fabricated league that has been of absolute no benefit to the progression of talent. It is a plastic league. A simulator if you will. As we all know, simulators are all well and good but nothing beats the real thing.
- Allow Academy and Development contract players to train and play with their clubs. Let the clubs teach them while you teach them. Lets the clubs handcraft them the whole way up. Let them learn their trade again.
- Senior players when returning from injury or not part of the matchday squad for the weekend should be released to play for their respective clubs. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but at same time if you leave an old engine idle- you’ll find it tricky to start when you come calling.
Whether or not this is a possible reality I simply do not know but on the outside looking in, I’m sure a lot of fans will agree with me when I say- why the bloody hell not? If you try something new and it doesn’t work, what do you do? You go back down the road of your previous method. Let’s just hope that road is still open.
– Jason Hennessy, Founder at RugbyLAD.com & Munster Rugby Supporter