Interview with Eugene Murnane.
In the four years as a senior club, I have never had the opportunity to do a full proper interview with anyone of the coaches (With anyone to be honest). A couple of weeks ago, I finally buckled and decided I’d give Eugene a ring and have a chat with him, and maybe put some of his thoughts down in print (Or online in my case). The reason I did it now is simple, it was Eugene, he’s extremely affable and he made it very easy for me. I rang him, he was in Limerick and his answer was “No problem bud, I’m on me way out, I’ll call to the house, put on the Kettle” in that Welsh lilt that has become most familiar to those of us who have travelled on buses and in cars around the country over the last two and a half years. What other senior club Coach would call to your house for an interview on his way home from helping out with the coaching of the Munster Junior clubs youths squad?
Anyway, not being a professional Journalist, I didn’t (And still don’t) know what format the thing should take but we worked it out between us and what follows is the result. It’s my first attempt an an interview of any kind, and to be honest it’s more of a discussion rather than an “interview” as such, also this took place during the middle of the six nations at which time we were by no means guaranteed promotion but anyway for what it’s worth, here it is.
Eugene’s rugby career kicked off in Blaenavon Forgeside, the Welsh equivalent of a Junior Club. Described as follows in Wikipedia: Blaenavon (Welsh: Blaenafon) is a town and World Heritage Site in south eastern Wales, lying at the source of the Afon Llwyd north of Pontypool. The town lies high on a hillside and has a population of 6,349 people. (roughly sized somewhere between the equivalent of Patrickswell and Newcastle West.)
He graduated from there to playing Senior Rugby with Pontypool as a Hooker and scrummed down in the front row alongside some greats like Graham Price (who holds the record for the most test matches in a row for the Lions) and the BBC commentator, Eddie Price. After the end of his playing career he move to Ireland, having family in West Cork and ran a pub in Clonakilty for four years. During his time there he coached the pack in Clonakilty during their first season in the AIL. His appointment with Bruff began in September 2005, in Bruffs 2nd Season in the All Ireland League, Division 3.
We went on then to discuss where he thought Bruff were going to go. Even at this stage he had no doubts regarding Bruff’s promotion to Division 2, and stated that “the aim for the team should be consolidation in that division establishing ourselves immediately as a force to be reckoned with“. When asked about the results that Bruff had to date against Division 1 and 2 teams in the Charity Cup for instance, he stated that while “it was easy to raise your game on a one off basis for cup matches, the hard job is to create the “step up” to do that on a consistent weekly basis in the AIL in Division 2“. He sees Bruff’s strengths as the fabulous underage system that has been in place over the last two decades and maintains that “producing your own players within the club’s underage structure is definitely the way forward. When necessary you supplement with other players in areas that may need strengthening but it must be with players that suit the club ethos and the current crop of guys who haven’t come up through our underage structure really have fitted into the system like new cogs into a well oiled machine“. I then asked him where he thought that improvements could be made: “We really need to add to the depth of the squad, a few injuries to crucial players and we could really be in trouble, look what happened this year, All the losses to injury, we have to be able to ride hits like that and still win games and produce the goods”.
Asking what other improvements he thought needed to be made he replied “The move to three nights training this year with the extra night in the gym made massive improvements but we have to have the support structures there for them. The gym equipment needs some work, some equipment needs to be replaced, and this is one area that has made a major difference this year with the newer stuff helping greatly but there’s more work to be done. Ideally the players should be doing their own individual weight training programmes and we’ll have to look at this in the coming few months”.
The discussion then turned to Motivation and I asked him how he approached motivating players both on and off the pitch. “Motivation is a very individual thing. Every player has to be approached differently and what works for one doesn’t work for another. In the professional game motivation can actually be a lot easier, players pockets are what get hit if things aren’t right but in the amateur game, these guys are doing this because they want to and it’s a totally different scenario. At the moment the guys all ‘On one page’ so to speak and motivating them is easy. They have their targets, and they all want to meet them. Eoin Cahill’s return and the attitude he brings both on and off the pitch has been nothing short of magical. He has own way of motivating these lads, remember he grew up with them, played all the way up along with them and has ‘wined and dined’ with them. He has brought the very best out of those guys since his return, the difference he has made has been phenomenal. Also it must be said that we have had great Club Captains since I’ve been here and more importantly Team leaders in Mikey, Brendan and Cathal and the influence these guys have had has been very important. What you have to remember is that these guys are no longer the youngest players in the league, the last two seasons in particular have seen them mature into well seasoned players and to be honest, this is their time.”
This brought the discussion neatly around to this years targets and how well we were achieving them as a team:
“The first target was to get the Charity Cup for the club, a major milestone as it was the first time that it had been won by Bruff. After that the target was to get to Christmas without a loss, which we achieved. Now we want to get to the end of the season unbeaten. Each individual game has its own targets and the guys want to get to the stage where there are no missed tackles, no penalties given away. With the defensive record that we have had this season it’s getting to the stage where we are bordering on paranoid about not losing a match. To date that has stood well to us, 6 no score wins at this stage of the season is nothing short of awesome. But we want to go on. We may be breaking records as we go but we want to get better. This is the great thing about this game, there is always someone better, there is always something that we haven’t done. You’ll never run short of targets to aim for.”
The penultimate question I had for Eugene was in regard to his thoughts about the changeover from the Amateur game to the professional era: “To be honest, the game hasn’t really changed that much although the rule changes may make cosmetic differences. Defences win games, and tries determine the final score but the changes have also helped to speed the game up. The major difference has been in the players, their fitness, their size and their overall pace. Bigger, faster, and now they have to make a big commitment to their own personal fitness. The current crop we have put in over twenty to thirty hours a week into this sport, solely for the love of the game and the club. They have to be applauded for it; three nights training, nights away in hotels, missing work on Saturdays and some Fridays for travel, weekend after weekend without being able to have a night out because they don’t get back home until maybe three O’ clock on a Sunday morning. It’s almost half their life. For some it is their life. I have nothing but admiration for the effort these guys put in, because at the end of the day, they are the ones that have to go out and perform, not us.”
Then finally the last question: What he thought of Wales chances in this years six nations and the upcoming Italian match for Wales (Note: this was before Wales played Italy): “the Changes that Warren Gatland keeps making are keeping all the players on their toes, He’s a very good coach and he’s making players fight for their positions, which is very important, you have to have that edge, Italy have a very tough pack and will give the Welsh lads a game of it up front next weekend, but I think Wales will win.”
All I got was a wry smile when I mentioned that he was the last welsh coach left in the All Ireland League….
Eugene Murnane, Coach of Bruff R.F.C., AIL division three winners 2007 and league leaders 2008.