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.