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Keatley is latest big hope for Munster

By David Kelly

Munster may be judged on Europe, but their rehabilitation this past calendar year was backboned by success in the Magners League, a title they lifted last May after defeating the Heineken Cup champions and their fiercest rivals, Leinster.

The province's ethos demanded silverware to compensate for their Heineken Cup exits. Some supporters demanded more, and chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald was forced to publicly offer coach Tony McGahan a vote of confidence.

Heads did roll - chiefly that of much-maligned forwards coach Laurie Fisher - while prop Tony Buckley was packed off to Sale after under-performing in Munster's key Heineken Cup pool showdown away to the Ospreys.

McGahan, one of the most talented coaches in the game here, spotted the decline of Tomas O'Leary's form well before Declan Kidney. More importantly, he acted upon it and Irish rugby can thank the Australian for his summary promotion of Conor Murray.

As stalwarts such as Alan Quinlan, John Hayes, Ian Dowling and Murphy exited the stage, Munster, who used 52 players last season, were belatedly forced to chug their conveyor belt into action.

McGahan, whose contract expires at the end of this season has, paradoxically, been liberated from the pressures and, notwithstanding the absence of all his first-choice back-three during most of the Heineken Cup, he has coped admirably with the injury crisis.

Ian Keatley, recruited from Connacht, will start against Ulster tonight in a fresh-faced side brimming with indigenous talent.

"We've got a lot of confidence in him," says McGahan.

"We brought him here with an eye on this situation and the future. We've had a lot of No 10s trying to establish themselves here and for a lot of them, it hasn't really worked out.

"He's had his run earlier this season. Ronan then came in and played exceptionally well, arguably some of his best form ever. Now Ian has got his chance again."

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