By Mark Jones
DUBLIN – The biggest weekend in the history of Limerick rugby was marred by the resignation of Ireland’s team manager, Pat Whelan, amid allegations that he had assaulted a journalist. When all the attention should have been focused on the All Ireland League final between Shannon and Garryowen at Lansdowne Road, the spotlight was turned on Whelan, who is both a Limerick man and a member of the Garryowen club.
Whelan, who had been in charge of the Irish squad for two and a half years, stated that his resignation was for “personal and business reasons” and refused point-blank to comment on allegations that he had punched Sunday Times rugby writer Tom English in a Limerick nightclub two days earlier.
However, English, who is also from Limerick, was adamant in a forceful article in last weekend’s Sunday Times that Whelan had assaulted him in the toilet of the nightclub. English alleged that Whelan struck him three times.
Last January, English called on Whelan to resign as Ireland manager and has been a persistent critic over the last two seasons during which the Irish team has been in a slump.
The Irish Rugby Football Union, for its part, has said it regrets that allegations of this nature have emerged. However, there has been no confirmation or denial that an incident took place between the two men.
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English has accused the IRFU of “moral bankruptcy” and he has demanded an apology from Whelan. In the meantime, New Zealander Warren Gatland has been appointed full-time Ireland coach until 2000, while former international captain Donal Lenihan has taken over from Whelan for the tour to South Africa in May and June.
On the pitch, Shannon duly clinched a remarkable fourth All Ireland League title in succession when they beat Garryowen, 15-9, in lackluster game. Both teams were nervy and mistakes were the order of the day as Shannon’s overall power saw them through.
Andrew Thompson continued his rich vein of place kicking form with all of the winners’ 15 points, while Killian Keane landed three penalties for Garryowen, who were unlucky to lose their talented No. 8, David Wallace, through injury after only 25 minutes of the first half.