It is of course a truism to say that the careers of coaches and managers are defined by results.

Mick O’Dwyer or Brian Cody winning as many matches as they did was not a fluke, but of course there were days of crushing disappointment and ‘what if’ moments before their teams became dominant.

You can prepare as best you can and make what you think are the right judgement calls, but you’re always at the mercy of external factors – or maybe it’s just fate.

When Munster head coach Graham Rowntree opted to exclude Conor Murray and Keith Earls from the match day 22 for last Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup game against Northampton Saints at Thomond Park, it was seen as a brave decision.

After the home side raced into a 24-0 lead, it was looking inspired, but then Jack O’Donoghue’s red card put them on the back foot and Northampton ate into the lead.

At that stage, you’re thinking that the experience of one or both of the Ireland internationals would be ideal to summon from the replacements’ bench.

They weren’t available, but Munster held out, Jack Crowley scoring a penalty to move them 27-20 ahead after the deficit had been reduced to four points.

It finished 27-23 – not enough for a try-scoring bonus point but enough to pretty much secure a place in the last 16 of the competition.

As we live in a world where the outcome dictates all, Rowntree’s decision-making receives an endorsement, and he is in a position of strength for the team selection for this weekend’s trip to Toulouse.

What ifs

However, if Northampton had managed to come back and lead, the pressure would be on – on the double – a win in France would be needed and Rowntree would be facing questions about his leadership.

A victory away to Toulouse would still be welcome in terms of theoretically securing a better draw in the knockout stages, and the fact that the French side are already qualified may be a help to Munster in that regard.

With Leinster in cruise control, top of their pool and likely to make it four wins from four when Racing 92 come to Dublin, the key game from an Irish point of view is Ulster’s clash with Sale Sharks at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night.

Currently, Ulster are third from bottom in the 12-team pool with three points, while Sale are a spot and two points above them. The teams in those two places after the weekend will be ‘relegated’ into the Challenge Cup last 16, while the bottom two sides are eliminated altogether.


It’s a winner-take-all scenario in a sense, but even with victory, the teams need Clermont Auvergne to drop points, so there are a few permutations at play.

After a good United Rugby Championship campaign to date, sitting in fourth place, Ulster’s inability to translate that form to Europe is something of a worry, having lost 39-0 to Sale in their opener and then going down home and away to Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle.

Last week’s 7-3 loss in France, with the home side scoring an injury-time try, will have been tough to take but Dan McFarland’s side must forget about that and produce a strong response.

Thankfully Connacht sit top of their Challenge Cup pool after three games and their final match at home to Bath will merely determine the placings and last 16 draw. Fingers crossed they are the only Irish team in it.

Laochra Gael returns

Good television doesn’t happen by accident.

For a documentary series, you need the researchers, producers and directors, but above all you need the subject that will draw viewers and then the contributors to round out that story.

In Laochra Gael, TG4 struck gold by reliving the careers of star players, but there might have been a fear that there was a finite nature to it all – that once the top people had been done it would run its course.

Thankfully, with a 21st season on the horizon, there are no signs of the quality dropping. In fact, as the focus shifts to players of a more recent vintage, there is more archive footage available, allowing for a fuller picture to be painted.

The new series begins next Thursday, 28 January with Galway hurler Joe Canning and continues for the next seven weeks, finishing with Cork football Noel O’Leary on St Patrick’s Eve.

In between, Aidan O’Mahony (Kerry), Anne Dalton (Kilkenny), Tom Parsons (Mayo), Áine Wall (Waterford), Liam Sheedy (Tipperary) and Anthony Molloy (Donegal) all get the treatment.

Áine Wall of Waterford celebrates after the All-Ireland Senior Ladies' Football Championship Final Replay match between Waterford and Monaghan at Croke Park in Dublin. \ Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Each has a unique and absorbing story to tell, and the brilliance of Laochra Gael is how it unlocks those tales, covering the good and the bad.

Of those chosen, Wall is perhaps the least well known but if, when she played, ladies’ football received the coverage that it does now, she’d be a bona fide superstar.

Five All-Ireland senior titles made their way to Waterford in the 1990s and at club level Ballymacarbry were the queenpins in the Déise County and Munster.

Juliet Murphy, who starred as Cork came to the fore in the 2000s, says that her Donoughmore team knew that if they could beat ‘Ballymac’, they could beat anyone.

Wall was a key factor in making her teams powerhouses and it’s only right that she receives wider acknowledgement.

Congratulations to her and all of the players chosen – but most of all to the sports department of TG4, headed up by Rónán Ó Coisdealbha, who continually come up with the goods.