I have two regrets in my time doing Three Red Kings and writing about rugby in general. The first is advocating the Icelandic Clap as something Munster supporters should do at Thomond Park – cringe, I know, I’m very sorry.
The second is the criticism I allowed to be levelled at Ian Keatley during the 2015/2016 season. At that time, TRK had two other contributors and, during the worst performing season in Munster’s professional history, that lead to a lot of negativity. As the flyhalf for much of that season, Ian Keatley ended up with more than his fair share of that negativity both in articles and on Twitter.
In doing so, TRK became a vector for criticism of Ian Keatley as people would tag Keatley underneath the in-game criticism with what can only be described as personal abuse that no one should have to read. Playing any part in that is something I really feel shit about, even today.
Was Ian Keatley playing well at the time? No. Was he the only one not playing well? Far from it.
Yet it was Keatley who took the brunt of the abuse both online and, on occasion, in the stadium along with other regular scapegoats like Duncan Williams. It was unacceptable. It was unfair. And it wasn’t something a guy with his tenure and service should have had to endure anywhere, be it online, in print or in person.
Keatley didn’t deserve any of the flak that came his way, especially during the dark days of 2015/2016 and I think the majority of the animus against Keatley comes from the memory of that godawful season. Looking back, we can see that Keatley was the visible scapegoat of a Munster squad that was playing without Paul O’Connell for the first time, that was missing Peter O’Mahony through a long term knee injury and was in the midst of a massive squad transition. Things weren’t right all through the squad and it was showing on the pitch in a raft of poor performances.
Keatley was playing poorly back then, for sure, but he was the only fit fly half in the squad so would have to play regardless.
When you hear someone criticising Ian Keatley, it’s usually that year that they’re thinking about. That season shouldn’t colour your vision of Ian Keatley’s contribution to Munster Rugby though. Since joining in 2011/2012, Ian Keatley bought in 100% to what Munster were about. Keatley consistently gave his time to anyone looking for a picture or an autograph and is a beloved figure around Limerick and, indeed, the province.
He’s not just a nice guy, either. He scored 1,247 points for Munster in 180 appearances (to date) and played his part in some great days. Put simply, you don’t earn 7 Irish caps, score 1,247 points for Munster and still be Connacht’s record points scorer eight years after leaving with 688 points without being a very good player.
Ian Keatley took on the hardest job in any sport – replacing a legend. When you’re filling that spot, nothing you do will ever be good enough to some; unless you can duplicate a Hall Of Fame career. Easy, right?
That juxtaposition between Keatley and the man who was synonymous with the rise of Munster Rugby and a guy who was a good player playing in a Munster side that seemed to be forever in transition was one that constantly unfair to. For me, Ian Keatley was judged too harshly in that light.
Keatley is a fantastic professional, an excellent team man and a fella who can perform at test level on his day. He leaves Munster owing nothing to anyone and with the best wishes of everyone in the club as he heads to Italy. He can have no regrets because he gave everything he had for the jersey.