What a shitehawk of a match.
I've been quiet for four days since because my head has been buried under a morose pile of pity. That and the fact that I've been getting in touch with my inner bogger while covering West Limerick for de Leader.
Though that did mean I got to write a real column about the game this week, not just the usual pithy electronic rambling that is only read by six people and a duck. Here it is, because I have no intention of repeating myself:
"We didn’t lose the Battle of Lepanto. We aren’t going to have to change our currency. If we’re honest, Croke Park on Saturday was really quite irrelevant. Leinster bent us over their knee and delivered a defeat that was almost the mirror image of Lansdowne Road in 2006, but what of it? As Munster supporters we may yet look back on this match as a key moment of catharsis, albeit one that came at the hands of our friend, the enemy.
Since Emile N’tamack lifted the first Heineken Cup in 1996, this tournament has risen to become one of the most bankable professional sports competitions in the world. The significance of that cannot be understated – rugby union is still a minority sport in Europe – and this phenomenon can largely be attributed to the money and air miles of the Munster rugby fan.
The desire behind Munster’s insatiable quest for the Holy Grail was mostly a fallacy, driven not by generations of failure and grievance but by the will of men like Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley and Declan Kidney to not lose any more. This gave the young competition a story line; a reason for Europe to keep watching. But it was always just about the rugby.
In that regard, Munster winning the tournament in 2006 marked the true end of our amateur rugby era, and we all lost something with it. Since then Munster have become a brand; a winning franchise that draws titanic support because titanic support likes winning franchises. Much like our economy, no one paused to question what it was all really about or if it was sustainable. Here and now has been a counterfeit mistress for all of us during this past decade.
Saturday was the apex of that. Genuine rugby fans in Limerick and the rest of the province spent the week beforehand rubbing their heads a bashful red as they listened to everyone else predict a Munster rout. It wasn’t silly pessimism, just an awareness of the fact that Leinster are very, very good and have every reason to grind axes and gnash teeth at the sight of a red jersey. Not many sports men and women like to be humiliated ad infinitum. Leinster were going to turn us over eventually.
But the reaction of many Munster fans to the result has given the rest of us a sharp lesson in tact. For so many of the supposed Red Army to leave before the end of the match all churlish and moody was pathetic. These people have never hesitated to share in the success of two European titles in three years, but are quick to vanish when the winning stops. But it goes beyond stadium etiquette.
Few people can honestly say that they have been happy to see Munster’s success leeched on to by vested interests. Politicians have been queuing up to ‘wish Munster every success’ and line the M7 with posters of them beaming in their red jerseys while misspelling players’ names and professing to know nothing of the sport.
Shopkeepers and accountants and solicitors have scrambled to be seen to be inside the Munster loop without knowing anything about Seamus Dennison or Donogh O’Malley or the humble, noble roots of the whole thing. These were the people who left early and wagged their tongues in disapproval on Saturday night and swore to never again pay to go watch them. Excuse me?
Of course this is the minority, and few can deny that the success of Paul O’Connell et al has put rugby balls into the hands of young boys and girls where they might not otherwise have been. Saturday was disappointing, yes, but it may provide us all with some pertinent angle and distance on Munster rugby.
The answers may be closer than we think.
After he narrowly avoided falling into the Grand Canal at 3am that morning, this column had an interesting conversation with an Old Wesley man in his late 40s who was biting into an Aprile’s chicken baguette and revelling in the glow of victory. He firmly believed that Munster’s metal was forged in defeat in Croke Park, and that this loss will provide the sense of grievance that will turn into ravaging red fury next year as they seek to re-claim their title.
He said that Leinster were walking in Munster’s pre-2006 footsteps as a perennial losers; a team fed up with have nots. He doubted Leinster will become a dominant force in European rugby, as this would most likely remain the preserve of Munster from next season. But he thinks it will be nice to win, because success should be driven by support and not the other way around.
Come May 23, every genuine Munster fan will be hoping that Leinster will become European champions. Defeat is humbling, and it was something many Munster fans were not very familiar with. If they plan on remaining Munster supporters in the future, Saturday may yet prove an important introduction."