Johann van Graan: Keith Earls’s bravery ‘will change a lot of people’s lives’

Munster head coach praises winger for talking so openly and honestly about mental health

Keith Earls and Andrew Conway during Munster training at UL. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Keith Earls and Andrew Conway during Munster training at UL. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Munster head coach Johann van Graan said that a lot of people’s lives will be changed for the better thanks to the bravery of Keith Earls talking publicly about his mental health issues.

Van Graan said that the Munster and Irish winger was brave and honest and that his appearance on The Late Late Show on Friday, when he spoke about the mental health battles over the years and his ultimate diagnosis of bipolar II, will impact on a lot of people.

“Keith Earls is a fantastic man, a Munster man through and through. I remember when I came to Munster initially, he was one of the first guys I talked to about Munster rugby and what it means to play for Munster and come from Limerick,” said Van Graan.

“Obviously, the things he shared were of a very private nature and the way he said it on Friday evening made such a big difference, not only to ourselves but I’m sure to a lot of people on the outside. For somebody to be that vulnerable and that honest, I believe it will change a lot of people’s lives because of that.

“The main thing is Earlsie is just himself when he’s in the HPC [high-performance centre]. He’s such a big part of Munster rugby and what we’ve been doing in the past. I’m very glad that he’s part of our group and very proud of him as a rugby player, as a man, as a friend, as a husband, and as a father.

“That’s bravery, that’s honesty, and we put that in the highest regard at Munster Rugby.”

Van Graan has now turned his attention to the final round of games in the opening block of the United Rugby Championship and they will be hoping to preserve their winning start when they head to Swansea to take on Ospreys on Saturday night (7.35pm kick-off).

And World Cup winner Damian de Allende could even be available for the trip with Van Graan himself picking him up at Shannon on Sunday after the centre’s exploits for the Springboks against the Lions and in the Rugby Championship.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan is expecting a tough game away to the Ospreys on Saturday night. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Munster head coach Johann van Graan is expecting a tough game away to the Ospreys on Saturday night. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“It’s great to have him back. Picked him up at the airport on Sunday afternoon. He’s had a good two-week break and it’s great to have him back in Limerick at the HPC. He’s a phenomenal player for us and we’re really looking forward to seeing him train.”

Van Graan didn’t rule out a belated return for Conor Murray this weekend but, like De Allende, was non-committal on his plans.

“Conor has been training with the group, the same as Damian, and we will make our decisions later in the week on whether we will select them. But Conor is looking really well and refreshed and training well.”

The Munster coach reiterated his support for Joey Carbery as the outhalf battles to get back to the level he was at before his injury nightmares and Van Graan again hailed the composure shown by the 25-year old to land a late conversion and seal a 20-18 win over Connacht.

“If you looked at Joey’s reaction when he kicked that kick and how much it meant . . . it doesn’t matter what happens in games. You get some high moments and some low moments but certain guys you want to give the ball to when the big kick matters.

“He has taken that and obviously glad for the team, but so glad for him. Had a pretty big one against Exeter pretty much in the same spot two seasons ago, we won 9-7 that day.

“Joey is a fantastic rugby player and really looking forward to what he brings in the latter part of the season.”

One of Munster’s difficulties in that derby clash was a malfunctioning lineout in the opening half and Van Graan revealed a major part of the problem was that Connacht knew their calls and were calling them back to them incorrectly!

“We were pretty good in the first three games. We sorted out one or two issues at half-time. It didn’t help that some of the Connacht players were screaming our calls back at us. We had to adjust at half-time and we felt our lineout functioned very well in the second half and we got some mauls going, which gave us penalties and field position, which we dominated in the second half.

“We readjusted at half-time and that’s the most important thing about rugby – it’s not so much about what happens, it’s about how you react to it. All the players and coaches involved sorted out the problems and we had a good second half lineout-wise.”

The focus switches to Wales this weekend and the clash with Ospreys, with a break then for the autumn internationals before Munster head to South Africa for URC ties against Van Graan’s former club Bulls in Pretoria and then the Lions in Johannesburg.

“But the most important thing for us is the Ospreys. They have been playing some very good rugby, they’ve got brilliant players in their squad and it’s a very difficult venue historically for Munster to go to. We’ve had some tough battles and had them in our European group two years ago, so they’re a team we respect and it will be a battle on Saturday evening.”

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