Don’t make Keatley scapegoat

First, let me say I don’t know Ian Keatley. I’ve never met him, didn’t play any club he was at and didn’t go to his school. I just want to put my feelings down on paper about what I feel is unfairly happening to him with Munster right now.

Ian Keatley is being made a scapegoat right now. He is being blamed for Munster defeats and I believe it’s very unfair on him. Keatley has been booed several times by his own fans this year, been publicly criticised by his head coach and has been slaughtered online on the forums.

Last night Connacht destroyed Munster in the Pro12. Pissed all over them being honest about it. The comments this morning on RTE Sport – “Foley should grow a pair and resign and take Keatley with him”, “‘Uncharacteristic errors from … replacement Keatley’ – LOL”, “Foley Keatley and all the Shannon boys out” and so on. It’s shocking. Keatley came onto the field with 13 mins left. The game was long over. It was a similar story a few weeks back when Leinster hosted Munster- he didn’t cause the loss yet was singled out as the main reason Munster lost in many quarters.

Keatley started his career at Leinster, moving to Connacht where he had three good years. Munster signed him to replace the departing Paul Warrick and he has been there since 2011. He was back-up to O’Gara and became the starting outhalf when he retired. Five years now he has been with Munster, has been capped by Ireland in that time and in my opinion he is due a hell of a lot more respect than he is getting. Why you ask?

Munster are not a good rugby side at present. The coaching ticket of Foley and a band of former players have not improved the side. Spectators have said this for a while, and it was confirmed almost as fact by Munster Rugby deciding to bring in a Director of Rugby from next season, basically replacing Foley as Munster head honcho. Their problems run deeper than who plays outhalf- the team has not improved as a whole, play a poor brand of rugby and haven’t looked at any stage like they will turn things around. Most of Munster’s problems can be traced back to poor leadership. There are other players who fingers could or should be pointed at ahead of Keatley. Stander is consistently excellent, and Murray and Zebo usually have good games. But where has Keith Earls leadership been? The Mark Chisholm signing has been a flop. Tomas O’Leary has returned to zero impact.

Last night against Connacht, the Munster scrum was destroyed. Pretenders to the Irish team, Cronin and Archer, were demolished by Buckley and Bealham. Donncha Ryan and Billy Holland were outclassed by Muldowney and Dillane. John Muldoon was the standout back row on the field. Murray was outshone by Marmion. Bundee Aki was the classiest player on the field, not his opposite number Saili (who in fairness has little help in the Munster three-quarter line). There are far more who should be shouldering the blame than the Munster back-up outhalf Keatley.

The cynic in me wonders why Anthony Foley is putting Keatley on the field. Is it to deflect blame? He clearly has no confidence in his outhalf, criticising him in the media and creating an impression Keatley is his last resort. Yet why not leave Johnny Holland on the field then? Why bring on a player whose confidence has been eroded and his role undermined, when the game is over? Whether he does anything or not in a game like last night, he’s coming out of it badly either way. All bringing him on does is provide a focal point for all the negative comments about the team. A scapegoat when things go wrong. It’s unfair and I feel bad for the guy to be getting this level of criticism when it is the team as a whole, the guys with multiple caps, his coach, the coaching team as a whole and the organisation as a whole who have recruited very poorly who are just as much, if not more so, to blame.

NFL Division 4 2016

This Spring I spent my Sundays travelling around Ireland watching mainly Division 4 football. I’m a Performance Analyst and worked for some teams in Division 4, scouting and preparing reports on their upcoming opponents. It was a most enjoyable experience I must say, made most enjoyable by the quality of football played. I would guess I may be the only person in the country who saw each team play, most teams more than once, apart from supporters who loyally followed their own team throughout the league.

Earlier this year the GAA tried to remove the 8 teams from Division 4 of the National Football League from the Championship. Their proposal was that if any of the 8 teams failed to reach their provincial final, they would be removed to compete in a knockout ‘B’ Championship. In my opinion, it was a pretty poor proposal, and I was glad when it failed to gain much support at Annual Congress.

There are some excellent footballers playing in Division 4. Below I have selected my “Team of the Season” from the 8 counties. I was surprised when I looked back at it to see that all 8 teams are represented. I saw just one match per weekend, as for some reason the GAA scheduled almost all the games at the same time, so the selection is based on what I saw at the games I attended. This selection of 15 I believe would be well capable of being an asset to any Division 1 side. To think of demeaning them, the work they put in, and most importantly the skills they have, by removing them from competing in the All-Ireland Championship is frankly scandalous.

  1. Craig Lynch (Louth) – good shot stopper, good kickout, comfortable in possession
  2. Tadhg O hUllachain (Waterford) – lightning fast man marker
  3. Sean McVeigh (Antrim) – strong in the air, tough as nails, old school full back
  4. Stephen Kelly (Wicklow) – pacy, good man marker, all round footballer
  5. Derek Maguire (Louth) – best sweeper I’ve seen, gets forward to great effect
  6. Gary Reynolds (Leitrim) – leader, marker and covers for his teammates
  7. David McGreevy (London) – leader of a London side unlucky to pick up only one win
  8. James Stewart (Louth) – fielder, processes a lot of ball and attacked well
  9. Daithi Waters (Wexford) – leader, linked play well and excellent on opposition kickouts
  10. Darren Hayden (Wicklow) – very quick and caused problems carrying ball towards goal
  11. Michael McCann (Antrim) – accurate, playmaker and very clever off the ball running
  12. Emlyn Mulligan (Leitrim) – playmaker and leader of attack. Excellent penalty taker
  13. Donal Shanley (Wexford) – accurate from play and frees, moves off the ball cleverly
  14. Darragh Foley (Carlow) – strong in the air, mobile, accurate
  15. Paul Whyte (Waterford) – strong, very accurate and good in the air

Very close to making this XV are Chris Kerr (Antrim), Tomas McCann (Antrim), James Califf (Louth), Declan Byrne (Louth), Colm Kehoe (Wexford), Gary Kelly (Carlow), Sean Gannon (Carlow), Mark Gottsche (London), Conor Prunty (Waterford), Barry Prior (Leitrim) and Mark Kenny (Wicklow) who were all excellent in the games I saw.

These guys, and their teammates, are deserving of respect. Pundits and the media are quick to give plaudits based on the training and hard work these players put in, but to ignore the skills and craft of these players does them a disservice. These guys wouldn’t be out of place in any company.

The Championship prospects for each team are outlined briefly below. There is cause for optimism for most teams in my opinion:

  • Antrim won’t be out of their depth against Fermanagh in the Preliminary Round in Ulster and could grab a victory if they can be confident in their system and don’t retreat into themselves on the day.
  • Carlow and Louth will be an excellent game in the Preliminary Round in Leinster and I’m sure it won’t be a one-sided affair as their league fixture was- whichever team comes out on top will give Meath a good rattle the next game out.
  • Wicklow have had an up and down league but if their management can settle on a team and resist making wholesale changes when the team is behind, can cause some damage against Laois in the Preliminary Round in Leinster.
  • Wexford, if they can pick their best team and get them all on the field, can beat Kildare in the First Round of Leinster. They have a good system of play, good forwards and some quality midfielders. Whichever team wins, I believe, will beat whichever midland team they face in the Semi-Final.
  • Waterford face Tipperary in the Munster Quarter-Final. Again, Waterford, dependent on getting their best team on the field and keeping their key players fit, can grab a win.
  • Leitrim will face, in all likelihood, Roscommon in the Connacht Quarter-Final. Despite having some quality players, I do think this will be a step too far for Leitrim. On the other hand, they are capable of raising their game as they showed in a quality win against Louth in the league.
  • London have been dealt the worst hand of all, with a Connacht Quarter-Final against Mayo. It’s a big ask, but London have performed well in Division 4. Close defeats have followed them all year, narrowly losing to Carlow, Leitrim and Wicklow in games they could have won. If they lose to Mayo, it would be great to see them get a favourable draw in the qualifiers as they really could go on a good run.

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