Colm Kinsella talks to former Munster player Denis Leamy about his new coaching role with Young Munster and how he’s coping with retirement.
WHILE sitting down watching Ireland getting throttled by Spain at this summer’s European Soccer Championships in Poland in June, a thought suddenly struck Denis Leamy.
What was the former Munster and Ireland number eight going to do with himself over the long, dark winter months?
A month earlier, Leamy had announced his retirement from professional rugby, ending a decorated 11-year career. His rugby-playing days had been cut short by an on-going hip injury and he was faced with the challenge of filling a massive void in his life.
Leamy won the first of his 144 Munster caps in September 2001, as a 19-year-old, and played in both the 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cup finals. Capped 57 times by Ireland, the 30-year-old played in two World Cups, was twice a Triple Crown winner and was a member of the 2009 Grand Slam winning side.
While his former Munster team-mates were looking forward to starting pre-season training, Leamy was coming to terms to life without the game.
A phone call to his former Munster team-mate, Mike Prendergast, the current Director of Rugby at Young Munster, provided him with a means to continue his involvement in top flight rugby this winter.
“I was watching the Ireland v Spain soccer match at the Euros. Ireland were being hammered about 3-0 and something just came into my head, off the cuff. What I was going to do over the winter?,” Leamy recalled.
“I just thought I would pick up a bit of a gig somewhere around Limerick and I rang Mikey (Prendergast) because I knew he was involved in rugby in the city. I just said to Mike, ‘look, I would be interested in getting a club, could you help me out?’ He got back within an hour saying they had already appointed ‘Paco’ (Fitzgerald) as forwards coach, but they would be delighted if I came on board as assistant forwards coach. I wasn’t asking Mikey really to join Young Munster’s, but when he said there was an opportunity with them, I was more than delighted to take it.
“Being honest, there is nothing like playing. It is different being at the other side of the line. But I am getting a good buzz out of it at the moment. They are a good bunch of lads and seem to have responded well. With Mikey, ‘Paco’ (Fitzgerald) and Gar (Gearoid Prendergast), it is really, really enjoyable. Hopefully we are in for a good season.
“I have always coached in Cashel from the time I have been 18 or 19. I always went back when I could. When I was injured over the past few seasons, I took some of the seconds and thirds sides. It has always been a good experience, something I have always enjoyed.
“I am just doing my level two coaching at the moment. It’s grand. It is not something I see as my job going forward, but it is something I enjoy and rugby has been very good to me. I am trying to give something back.
“I don’t think it is going to be my day job from 6pm to 11pm each night or whatever they do. The hours they put in these days are huge and I don’t think I would be prepared to do that. But I enjoy rugby.”
Leamy admits to feeling an ‘ache in the stomach’ from time to time when watching Munster play and realising he is no longer involved in the squad.
“Being honest, I didn’t miss pre-season at all,” Leamy laughed.
“But it is difficult. I haven’t seen too many of the games live, but I have recorded all of the games. I watch them when I get a chance.
“You do get a bit of an ache in the stomach when you see the boys playing. It is difficult and it will take time I am sure. Anyone I spoke to says it is a process that takes time.
“I am doing some farming at the minute. I am just trying to back into that as well and exploring a couple of other options as well. Things are good. I am enjoying it and am positive about leaving professional rugby.”
Leamy has been impressed with the new style of play Munster have developed this season under New Zealand head coach Rob Penney.
“The new Munster style of play is fantastic. It is certainly a lot different,” Leamy said.
“I have played that way, probably more so in Ireland camp, but we did a little bit of it with Munster too at one stage, obviously not over the past few years. It is a system which will suit the team.
“It would be lovely to have a go off that and test ourselves in that sort of environment. Any time I speak to any of the lads, they are very positive about the experience, very positive the new set-up and the game they are trying to play. That does make me a little jealous. It does play on your mind a bit, ‘what if’, but that’s the way it is.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be a great indication of how far Munster have come over the past couple of months. It will really test them, playing quality teams, no disrespect to the sides they have played. That will give the boys a clearer indication of where they are.”
Leamy admits the significant growth in emigration in recent times is putting pressure on the playing resources of all clubs, but it is a phenomenon clubs must try and come to terms with.
“That is the world we are living in right now and unfortunately the economic situation means a lot of guys have to travel abroad to get work,” Leamy said.
“I see that in Cashel, as well. A lot of guys have gone to Australia. That puts a pull on the structures of grass roots rugby. A lot of guys are going to Dublin for work reasons. That does have a knock-on effect, but you got to do what you have to do around here and do the best with the numbers you have. It really is about cutting your cloth and doing the bets you can.”
Leamy was encouraged by Young Munster’s opening night victory over Shannon in Division 1A of the AIL. However, he appreciates the new season is still only in its infancy.
“For the early weeks of the season, there has just been a bit of sparring going on,” Leamy said.
“In the (AIL) match with Shannon, it really felt like the season had started. I was happy with the way things worked out and getting a bonus point, A lot of new guys have come into the squad and a few old heads are there as well.
“We seem to be gelling nicely and hopefully we can keep improving as the season moves on. We have a big test next weekend playing St Mary’s. Obviously playing the champions, it is a great challenge, but hopefully the guys will rise to it. I am sure they will.”