In recent times, much merited positivity has reverberated regarding Irish sport – thanks to the considerable achievement of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane in navigating our soccer team to Euro 2016, our golfers continuing to perform admirably around the globe. Consider, too, the fact that Katie Taylor this year had to face Shauna O’Keefe to claim the National title she hitherto annexed without donning a glove alludes to a proliferation of popularity for women’s boxing.
Against that backdrop, what has in most recent times been the safe house for Irish sporting expectation – rugby – could, it may reasonably be argued, be said to have had its foundations somewhat shaken. Such assertions may indeed have attained traction in the wake of the national side’s tame capitulation against Argentina, but, looking at the broader picture, the western front appears to be the only quiet one.
By way of there being no cause for concern, that is. In fact, in real terms those for whom disbandment was shamefully propagated have been making plenty of noise, all of it positive. Culminating in their deserved positioning atop the PRO12 standings. And, whilst in no way seeking to imply a diminishment in the achievement of Pat Lam and his players being thus, it’s clear that the constitutions of our other representatives in the primary competitions aren’t currently as well fortified.
However, one can’t help feeling that the stellar doings way out west haven’t gained the attention or recognition they deserve. Primarily because it would appear the worrying talking points outweigh the positive. Most notable of which could have incalculable consequences for Connacht – namely what’s turning into a rigmarole revolving round Robbie Henshaw’s future.
One need only to have witnessed his contribution to his ‘club’ team’s usurpation of Munster at Thomond Park (there was a time when nobody could) to even attempt to quantify the incalculable magnitude which his relocation elsewhere would represent for the country’s most rapidly improving team.
In fact, the aforementioned improvement raises some other points worth exploring. For one thing, the live possibility that, as things currently sit, Henshaw may have a better chance of engineering success at his current location than elsewhere. Which in turn leads to a necessary pondering as to why the other provinces have lately been experiencing such a decline in efficiency of performance. To some degree at least.
Before any high horses are mounted, cognisance has of course been retained of the fact that Anthony Foley’s side sit second in the league. That said, even someone with the most basic grasp of the simples of the oval ball code could identify the defensive malfunctions which were again most glaringly exposed by Tiarnan O’Halloran’s well worked try.
In the case of Ulster, essentially they don’t appear to be a whole lot wrong. More likely that they are stuck in a rut, the likes of which yours truly can all too easily identify with in other aspects of life. But one which one victory would snap them right out of.
Undoubtedly, for an outfit with the standards and expectations which Leinster espouse, their current travails will be a disappointment and a worry. Sight should not be lost though of the leadership figures Leo Cullen’s charges have been shorn of in recent times. Nor, for that matter, a realisation that neither Sean O’Brien or Jonny Sexton – two of those who now would have even greater emphasis on their figurehead status – have been able to be as effective as has been required.
All of which can and will in time be remedied. Fixing Munster’s foibles may be a trifle more difficult. At the time of Foley’s appointment, I wrote in anticipation of a return to everything which made the Red Army great during their most bountiful period. However, by and large, it has been alarmingly absent.
Most pointedly in terms of on-field leadership. To witness a coalition of up to half a dozen players have to convene to arrive at a decision close to the end of the Connacht game is to realise the dearth of such qualities prevalent since such bastions of the south as Foley himself, O’Connell, O’Gara, Stringer and Doug Howlett exited stage.
A harsher – yet nigh on indisputable – analysis would suggest the a shortfall in the quality of output from the half back line is the most painfully obvious cause for the shortcomings currently afflicting Munster’s game. Especially when half of the first choice pairing in that sector may happen to be off the field.
Mention was afforded earlier to what’s becoming something of a circus pertaining to Robbie Henshaw’s long term career. Well, if what’s mooted when it comes to transfer comings and goings – namely, the latter to Leinster, Ian Madigan to Munster and Keatley to Connacht, were to transpire, it would assuredly represent new opportunities for players and teams alike.
Drastic as it may sound given how successful Irish rugby teams have been for a long period, the sense is that something is needed to stoke the spark that has made it all possible.