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Challenging Times Ahead For Munster!

9th August 2002 By Munster Rugby

Challenging Times Ahead For Munster!

It seems that every time Alan Gaffney answers the phone these past few days it’s to hear of another injury to one of his players.

It seems that every time Alan Gaffney answers the phone these past few days it’s to hear of another injury to one of his players.

The most recent to head for the ER is Anthony Horgan, who will need an operation on a troublesome shoulder. The recovery period is six months. Minimum. So now, that’s three front line players who are on the long-term injury list as Gaffney starts off in his inaugural year as coach with Brian Hickey by his side. They have inherited a side with a record in Europe – matched only by Stade Francais- of four consecutive knock out stage appearances. A side who are to rugby what Barry McGuigan was to boxing, what Sonia is to athletics – the people’s champion.

Every year for the past two, Munster were right up there among the favourites to win the trophy and their unmatchable passion – and no amount of skill – brought them tantalisingly close on both occasions since that emotional Twickenham final. Each year presented a different challenge at different stages and the current one is no different, except that this time around, the challenge comes much earlier, in the shape of injury to key players. The back up is there, the three Os – O’Driscoll, O’Callaghan, O’Neill, – and now Halvey, but the point is that teams win matches, it’s squads that win tournaments. Any squad would struggle with the loss of players like those now in the ER.

Even before a ball has been kicked, the mountain rises up in front of this Munster side and Gaffney and Hickey must surely be looking skywards and asking “ What, have we done to you Lord?” There are a lot of teams around Europe who will feel they ‘owe Munster one’. Leicester is probably the only other ‘scalp’ that is as, or, more coveted than Munster’s. That’s how good they’ve become. How good we’ve become.

So what lies ahead . Well, Llanelli away in the first Celtic League game, Edinburgh in the third and then Ulster in Ravenhill followed by Neath at the Courage Gnoll. Then it’s Gloucester in the Thomond of the Midlands – Kingsholm and a Perpignan side whose stated aim is to become the first side to triumph at Thomond Park in the Heineken Cup and then back-to backs against Italian side Viadana.

Gaffney & Hickey can be comforted somewhat in the knowledge that adversity is something Munster folk embrace fondly. They clutch it to their chests and usually, squeeze it, till it turns to their advantage. Their legion of marvellous supporters have played a crucial role in the success of the side and they can be relied on again to add that vital extra ingredient.

Munster kick off their season next Tuesday with a warm-up against Bristol Shoguns at Thomond Park (7pm).



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