Where was I? Fingers pointing at McGahan? Maybe there were a few too many fingers pointing at him when some of them should have been pointing at his colleagues … and who knows if their appointments were even his call.
One of the weakpoints of Dumper’s tenure has – until the elevation of Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley – been the support staff: Laurie “Gandalf” Fisher as forwards coach, Jason “Dutchy” Holland as attack coach and Paul McCarthy as scrum coach.
The Lawrie Fisher appointment was well-intentioned – bring in an expert to nurse Munster through a set of experimental law variations that would have a big impact on their traditional style of play – but while he upped the handling skills of the pack, their set-pieces declined on his watch. It wasn’t just the set-pieces, though: he failed to find a way to turn Munster’s traditional pick-and-jam into a viable tactic under the new laws. He also threw a couple of players under the bus in public, notably Denis Fogarty … if your hooker can’t throw it in straight and you’re the forwards coach, that’s a failure on your part too, Gandalf.
Dutchy Holland got an easier ride initially because he’s a Ligind, but Munster’s attack and backline plat in general has been very poor under his watch, and the fanbase are beginning to rear up at one of their own.
Up until a matter of months ago, Denis Hurley had gone backwards every year since McGahan and Holland took over; thankfully, he has rediscovered the excellent 2008 form that saw him take Shaun Payne’s place at fullback for the knock-out games of the Heineken Cup that year. Keith Earls is still essentially the same player he was in 2009 – he still has an underpowered passing game and isn’t a first rate defender – and Lifeimi Mafi is considerably worse.
Johne Murphy has been pushed all over the park until he barely knows what he’s supposed to be doing, and Tomás O’Leary’s form has fallen off a cliff. Now, you can’t blame all of that on Jason Holland, but what’s there to credit him with? It’s not terribly plausible to credit him with the emergence of Conor Murray and Simon Zebo as international calibre players. After all, Zebo still has big holes in his game and Murray was scarcely under Holland’s tutelage before he was in the first team.
Glimmers of hope have appeared on the horizon, but there’s an unfortunate tendency amongst a voluble section of Munster fans to want to start a bonfire with a magnifying glass and a few watery rays of sunlight. Felix Jones, Danny Barnes and Simon Zebo have all shown flashes of talent, but the fanbase is too quick both to anoint and dethrone.
The worst of it was the scrum, though. All problems paled in comparison with the scrum. Having decided that absolutely enormous tightheads who couldn’t scrummage were the way forward, Munster put their faith in Mushy 196cm [6’5”] and 132kg [20st 6lbs] and converted No8 Timmy Ryan 193cm [6’4”] and 116kg [18st3lbs] as replacements for the rapidly aging John Hayes. And apparently decided that they didn’t need a scrum coach.
The pendulum swung away from a scrummaging style that encouraged enormous props, and Munster were left with three beached whales at tighthead. In fairness, John Hayes had put in an enormous shift: nothing more should have been expected of him. The rest of the propping corps have been nothing short of a disaster. Marcus Horan had a scare with a heart murmur and saw a subsequent plummet in form from which he has never recovered; Darragh Hurley looks to be too injury prone/fragile to make it as a professional prop; neither of the Ryan brothers are up at Pro12 level, and are now making their respective livings down the ranks in the Italian league; Mushy Buckley has moved off to Sale, and Munster didn’t exactly fight to keep him.
When they did appoint a scrum-coach, they didn’t go looking too far away from home. Paul McCarthy got the job for the 2010/11 season, and if anything, Munster’s scrum got worse.
Maybe it wasn’t McCarthy’s fault, but he certainly wasn’t the silver bullet that Munster fans hoped he would be. He didn’t have the greatest raw material to work with, but they weren’t showing any great improvement either.