By Brendan Cole
Tony McGahan has been saluted by former Munster players ahead of his anticipated departure for a coaching position with Australia at the end of the season.
Munster Rugby and the Australian Rugby Union have not yet made any statement on the issue, but several reports last night indicated that McGahan had told the Munster players of his intention to leave the province and join the Wallabies coaching setup as defence coach.
McGahan has been with Munster since 2005, when he joined as defence coach under Declan Kidney, and was present for both of their Heineken Cup wins.
He took over as head coach in 2008 and Munster reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals in both of his first two seasons in charge, though they failed to get past the pool stage last year. They have also won the Magners League (now RaboDirect Pro12) twice during McGahan’s tenure.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, former Ireland international Donal Lenihan said: “He was part of the Munster management when they won the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008, but I think his biggest contribution has been the number of young players that he has bought through.
"Munster have been unbeaten, against all the odds, this season in the Heineken Cup and they have nine players who have made their Heineken Cup debuts.”
Lenihan added: “If he does go, I think it is a pity that he will not see through the work that he started over the last 18 months or two years.”
Former Munster and Ireland wing-forward Alan Quinlan was coached by McGahan until his retirement at the end of last season.
He said: “He [McGahan] will certainly be a loss. He has put a lot of hard work in over the last number of years and is very popular with the players and the staff and with the fans.
“I suppose last year was probably his most disappointing season, not making the quarter-finals so there was bit of pressure on it. He has certainly turned it around this year and Munster have been fantastic.”
Frankie Sheahan, the former Munster and Ireland hooker, also played for several years under the Queenslander. He said: “When he came first in 2005 he brought a confidence that rubbed off on the players.
"He has an insatiable appetite to improve all the time. He will be missed. His attention to detail and his level of work has been incredible.”
Several names are already being linked with the job, including Michael Bradley, Conor O’Shea and Mike Ruddock, along with former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan.
Bradley and O’Shea, both former Ireland internationals, are currently contracted to Edinburgh and Harlequins respectively. Former Wales and Leinster coach Ruddock is currently coach of the Ireland Under-20s.
Youghal native O’Sullivan, a former Munster player, is currently without a job. He quit as head coach of the US Eagles after the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Current Munster forwards coach Anthony Foley could also be in the mix, while New Zealanders Wayne Smith and John Kirwan have also been mentioned.
On the next appointment, Sheahan added: “Faraway fields are not necessarily greener. I would like either an indigenous Irish coach or someone who is very familiar with the Irish game.”