At a point in the early 1980s when Meath football would have required promotion to be considered in the doldrums, the Meath Chronicle ran a front page depicting a coffin with the words ‘Meath Football R.I.P.’ inscribed thereon. Obviously, to the betterment of generations of us, the prophecy was certainly debunked and then some. However, it’s only right and fair to point out that those who would become my colleagues decades later weren’t distorting the prevailing sentiment at the time. With the county having been defenestrated by Wexford and Longford in consecutive seasons before what was considered to be the death knell in 1985.
That being the occasion on which Laois obliterated them out of the Leinster SFC thus dousing whatever bit of momentum was thought to have been generated via the Centenary Cup success of the previous season. If you remember the layout of O’Connor Park in Tullamore, the dressing rooms were underneath pitch level with no tunnel access within the stand. Meaning that when alighting from the stand, patrons would actually pass the dressing room doors. Which, on the occasion in question wasn’t in the favour of those who’d been on the pitch. Who were informed by passers by that they resembled ‘A bunch of auld women’.
In the most excellent documentary which simply bore his name as its title which aired last August, Sean Boylan said, in typically gracious fashion, that it was “Only right” that his stewardship of the side was challenged after such an abomination of a performance. Thankfully, though, delegates had the good sense to avoid kneejerk reactionism and common sense prevailed. Mind you, gut instinct is to think that even if the clubs had gone the other way the late, great Fintan Ginnity would’ve found some way of turning it around!
Stephen Kenny and Johan Van Graan would surely understand. Whether they would have the humility to react with such humility would be highly debatable at best. Both of them warrant the utmost scrutiny presently. To deploy a phrase coined by Jose Mourinho, they are rapidly becoming specialists in failure.
In Kenny’s case in particular, such summary justice may seem decidedly harsh given his commendable record in management within domestic football. However, jumping from that to international football would be akin to going from doing pony rides at a fun fair to taking a mount in the Grand National.
Again, you find yourself scrambling to obtain a scintilla of sympathy for the embattled manager. Simply as it is becoming ever more obvious that Kenny’s appointment was the final stench from the legacy of effluent foisted on Irish football by Dodgy Delaney.
This corner was never likely to appear atop a pile of Mick McCarthy fan mail. However, the brash Barnsley bruiser did not deserve the farcical and frankly insulting manner in which he was treated during his second stint in charge of the boys in green. It wouldn’t take Stephen Hawking to decipher misgivings in this seat in relation to the journeyman boss, but, in a results-driven business it would be difficult to quibble with the productivity the national team achieved during his spells in charge.
That said, using the same metrics to judge the current regime doesn’t break well in their favour. Yes, there are presently unforeseen extenuating circumstances in mitigation but I think even the most level headed, fair minded barstool pundits must surely concede the dross excreted at the Aviva against Luxembourg must be a bridge too far.
At this juncture, it should be pointed out that, while Kenny’s rump will ultimately be carved into rashers, those on the field are the cause of the gristle currently blighting the dish. Seamus Coleman is indeed to be commended for the sincerity of his words in response to Tony O’Donoghue’s provocative, mildly aggressive questioning after the game.
However, as genuine as the great Donegal man was in concurring that the display was “unacceptable” and “embarrassing” the blackest day Irish football since, in Eoin Hand’s time, even Trinidad and Tobago had the measure of our lowly lot.
If you think back to those awful compare and contrast questions often fired at us in school, it’s worth noting that Kenny has now gone 10 games in charge without a win. You’d get hard to envisage a manager in club football getting such grace and favour. Yes the players ought to be ashamed of the scour football they soiled Lansdowne with the other night. However, to borrow a phrase from another Delaney-instigated disaster, Kenny’s the gaffer and the buck has to stop with him.
If the great Anthony Foley hadn’t been so cruelly taken from us in October 2016, you imagine he would still be Head Coach in Thomond Park. The only possibility you could imagine him not being would be had he been elevated to take charge of the national team. Though it would be more probable that he would’ve enlisted the help of some of his fellow former warriors to continue the momentum which had incrementally began to manifest itself.
Alas, whatever bit of forward propulsion which may have germinated during Axel’s reign has been well and truly stifled now. At best Munster have stagnated, at worse they have regressed. It will be openly admitted that differing views were expressed in this space not at all long ago. But, while it appeared Stephen Larkham’s coaching had brought about change for the better, the real evaluation of that was always going to be when they faced off against the oldest and greatest foes, Leinster.
Going by that yardstick, the red army are still eons behind Leo Cullen’s side. It probably gauges where the Wicklow man and his team placed Saturday’s latest showdown that (a) it was played at the RDS rather than the Aviva (Yes one is aware the soccer was on as well but the fact is if the rugby was a bigger draw there’s no way the two would’ve been allowed clash) and (b) the fact that they were able to leave some of their big guns in reserve.
Granted, during the first half it appeared as if the underdogs were going to give as good as they were getting, especially when heading in level at 6 apiece having played against the swirling breeze within the Earlsford Terrace venue. Normally, you might think wind wouldn’t make that big of a difference in a rugby match. And that assumption would have been on the money had those in red stuck to the plan of attack which had served them so well in recent weeks – keeping ball in hand, playing expansive, inventive rugby and going through multiple phases of pick-and-drive.
However, for reasons which only they could fathom, Munster’s Brains Trust yet again tried to disprove the theory that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes is the definition of insanity. Of course this backfired spectacularly as it always had done previously. That is to say, trying to engage in a game of kick tennis with one of the most covetuous – in a complimentary sense – teams in the game. In particular, box-kicking the ball down the throats of the likes of Jordan Larmour and Robbie Henshaw and Dave Kearney. Not to mention as good a pack as this writer has witnessed or known of in over a quarter century of being properly attuned to goings on in the oval ball code. Headlined by the rejuvenated Jack Conan in particular.
There’s no doubt Munster need major change before they could even contemplate closing the gap on their contemporaries. Both in the coach’s box and on the field. The latter must include making one switch that not all that long ago would’ve been dubbed a mortal sin.
Then again, time and tide waits for no man, woman or child. And doing nothing simply isn’t an option.