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Munster's young guns ready for Toulon: Keatley



Wise head: Ian Keatley aiming to make history with Munster

Wise head: Ian Keatley aiming to make history with Munster

Wise head: Ian Keatley aiming to make history with Munster

Ian Keatley turns 31 this Sunday but, even as the years advance and the clocks move forward, it seems to those watching as if the out-half is ever more capable of catching time in a bottle.

Life, however, has its own way of reminding him that the days roll on regardless.

Being a parent, for one; little Beth entirely rapt by every living moment but, as if burning with impatience, growing rapidly day by day.

Having a parent, for another; last weekend his mother sent him the newspaper clippings following Munster's 15-7 victory against the Scarlets.

Building up to a potentially momentous milestone this week, it seemed appropriate to breathe in the relevance of his responsible role within this squad as he contemplated what lay ahead of him.

"You are only two games away from winning silverware, so it is massive," he says, as Munster prepare for a record 17th European quarter-final against Toulon in Thomond Park on Saturday.

"I'm the third oldest in the group, Billy is the oldest and Duncan Williams (currently injured) is the second oldest.

"It is quite a young squad and the only way they are going to get experience is to play in these quarter-finals and hopefully semi-finals.

"It is going to be massive for the squad and we are looking forward to the challenge."

In a sporting landscape where lead­ership groups have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Munster's core of experience will presumably be required to, sportingly of course, galvanise those younger players Keatley references.

However, the former Connacht and Leinster man provides a different twist; in his opinion, the leadership provided can only be effective if it encourages a mutual engagement from those that are being led.

"You have your leaders in the group but the main bulk of the squad consists of the young players coming through," he notes.

"They determine how the squad goes and how the team plays because the leaders just try and show the way."

The injury catalogue at Munster is well-known.

They are so depleted they must convince themselves they are more capable of toppling Toulon than they were of downing Saracens last season at the semi-final stage.

Should they do so it would rank alongside the coup at the Stoop back in 2013 at this stage when Paul O'Connell shepherded an equally inexperienced smattering of players to victory.

Certainly, Keatley thinks it might even surpass that.

"I think for this current squad, yes, it would," he says.

Belfast Telegraph