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Paul O'Connell and Tony McGahan
Billy Stickland
Munster Opener Will Rekindle Bittersweet Memories
7 July 2009, 1:48 pm
By Chris Byrne
"They played all along with character and departed with character. They took the hardest route to the final and enriched us all along the way. At Twickenham on Saturay it was surely better to have been and lost than never to have been there at all. This Munster team, of all Irish teams, need feel no shame at all."
That was Gerry Thornley's opinion in his piece in The Irish Times on the Monday back in May 2000 after Munster had been beaten 9-8 by Northampton Saints in the 5th Heineken Cup final.

It was the first time the sides had met in the competition and when they square up to each other in Franklin's Gardens on October 10th it will be the first time they've met in the competition since that fateful day when nearly 69,000 - an estimated 30k wearing red - packed into Twickenham.

Eleven of the side that started that day have retired. Try scorer David Wallace, prop John Hayes and half-backs Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer are still in the squad along with bench replacements from that day Alan Quinlan, Donncha O'Callaghan and Marcus Horan.

It was O'Gara with at that stage just 30 odd Munster caps to his credit who was asked, as was to be the case so often subsequently, to snatch victory, but that last kick went agonisingly narrowly wide. "It's terrible," he admitted afterwards, "I don't really think we realise what's happened yet to be honest. It's terrible, we had our chance in the final and unfortunately we didn't take it. It's a long, long way back but there's great spirit there and I'm sure we'll be back again." - How right he was.

Keith Wood, on a sabbatical from Harlequins who weren't involved in the competition, and living close to the stadium said afterwards, "I only have to walk around the corner to see this monument to despair and defeat from today so I can't wash this slate clean so quickly. I'll be wearing dark glasses for a while so I can't see it."

He would of course never get the opportunity to wipe the slate clean as a player returning to Harlequins the following season. He played against Munster in 2001/2002 when they again reached the final, Northampton - having managed only one Pool win in the year of their defence of the title - finishing bottom of their Pool that season.

Northampton Saints won the Challenge Cup last season beating Bourgoin in the final and their last venture in the Heineken Cup was in 2006/07 when they were beaten at semi final stage by eventual winners London Wasps, having beaten Biarritz Olympique in the quarter final in the Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian. They lost just one game in Franklin's Gardens last season in the Premiership and will provide Munster with the stiffest challenge in both the first and last Pool games of this year's compettion.

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