Flannery thirsty for Munster success

Colourful hooker has a day off from running his Limerick bar today and aims to call time on Saracens' dreams
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The Independent Online

Jerry Flannery has done all right out of the Heineken Cup. As Munster's first-choice hooker he was a big part of the province's celebrated capture of the cup in 2006, and he fervently hopes today's semi-final against Sarac-ens will show the way to anotherCardiff final. As the co-owner of a bar in his home city of Limerick, he sees turnover leap higherthan Paul O'Connell in a line-out every time a major match is on television or an English club hit town. "Some Wasps supporters virtually spent the weekend in there," he says. "They didn't seem to mind losing either."

Those thirsty punters not making the trip to Coventry's Ricoh Arena today will pack Jerry Flannery's, the bar where everybody knows his name, to watch their heroes – umpteen Ireland forwards augmented by three Kiwi amigos, Doug Howlett, Rua Tip-oki and Lifeimi Mafi. The prov-ince defeated Wasps in their pool and dismissed Gloucester in the quarter-finals, but Saracens are made of stout stuff, says Flannery.

"I looked at Saracens and I was shocked that they remindedme of ourselves," the 29-year-old says. "The way they played and competed at every aspect of the breakdown. Constantly pulling each other up off the ground and getting in the defensive line. Constantly smothering the Ospreys with pressure. They forced them into making plays that they didn't want to play. I was very impressed."

It is a nod to Saracens' head coach, Alan Gaffney, and a gracious one at that, because Flannery had two seasons under Gaffney while the Australian was Munster's head coach and hardly got picked. Only when Declan Kidney, the incumbent, took over in 2005 did Flannery get a chance, and his first properseason ended with that Heineken Cup win against Biarritz.

"Alan didn't give me a lot of games but I would not be angry at him, I'd look at myself and be disappointed," Flannery says. "I'd like to think if I worked with him again he'd see how much I'd improved. He [has] an insight into the Munster mentality."

Flannery is relishing the knockout end to Munster's season all the more after a broken hand coincided with a ban for stamping – reduced from eight weeks to four when an appeal hearing accepted there was no intent – to keep him out of the Six Nations.

During Ireland's miserable World Cup last autumn he roomed with Eoin Reddan, the scrum-half. Neither of them got a start until Eddie O'Sullivan, the coach, threw them in against France and Argentina in what proved to be Ireland's climactic defeats. O'Sullivan was on his way after the Six Nations, and it is Munster's Kidney who is tipped to take the vacant post.

"Declan's a top man and a great coach," Flannery says. "To come back into the Munster set-up after that World Cup, you couldn't have had a better coach to bring you back into it. He sees us all as people first. That sounds like a cliché, but he realised we were all pissed off."

There is a close bond between Munster's players and their boss. Kidney sprang slight surprises by selecting the scrum-half Tomas O'Leary and full-back Denis Hurley against Gloucester, but it worked. "I had a chat with [Munster team-mate] Ian Dowling about how damned difficult it is to keep the intensity going week after week," Flannery says. They decided between them that a top coach manages it by using a player when he is at his hungriest; keeping the best for when they most need to peak. Kidney knows his stuff.

Now there is Howlett to add to the red-jerseyed fire and brimstone. The All Blacks' record try-scorer only made his debut in January, but Flannery is a fan. "Dougie has fitted in so well. Every single thing on the field, he works at it constantly. You might see some huge winger from Fiji or somewhere who runs through everyone and makes it look easy. Dougie has all that, but you watch him play and he's grinding every minute, on the ball, trying to take a quick one. You look at some players and they're, 'Yeah, I've kind of done this, I'm playing for the money'. They've played so much rugby they're sick of it. You look at Dougie and it's not like that."

It has not spared Howlett the inevitable mickey-taking over his infamous jumping-on-cars exploits after New Zealand went out of the World Cup. "I've been cycling to training since he got here," says Flannery.

Rugby holds sway today, so his dad and his bar manager will keep an eye on the business. "It's a good dose of the real world," says Flannery. "Like when everyone's talking about a big game like this weekend and your main priority is getting this fridge fixed or why did someone kick over my flowerpot last night."

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