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Cardiff Beckons Once More For Mighty Munster
4 April 2006, 11:33 am
"As Sunday afternoon drifted into Sunday evening, the grin between my ears remained as constant as Munster s match-long tackling drill under a blue Dublin sky." - Dermot Keyes, Munster Express.

We wish to apologise for any inconvenience caused by the coach defect, the huddled masses were informed on the glorious Sunday just passed.

No, this wasn t the Leinster public address consoling his hopelessly out-roared support, who couldn t muster a decent tune never mind a uniformed colour in this old arena s ever creaking concrete.

These were in fact the words which streamed through the Iarnr d ireann tannoy after the Waterford-bound train to Dublin ground to a smoking halt in Kildare.

For 15 minutes on a platform in Lilywhiteland, angst-ridden faces watched what appeared to be a barbecue s entrails emitting itself from the belly of a carriage, the very one yours truly had been sitting in.

For a brief few moments, the possibility of watching the game in this friendliest of enemy territory given the day that was in it, flashed through the mind.

Many faces on the rdan in question were growing as red as the jerseys that draped the majority of frames within eyeshot. Would we make it to the temple in time to worship?

Would Craig Doyle turn up at the station to calm us with a dulcet tone and a chiselled chin to allay our fears? Oh how we pined for one of those new trains from Northern Spain he s been telling us about.

Curiously enough the dishy BBC presenter turned up in the press room for a half-time cuppa, but that s just me name dropping so enough of that.

We ve been told that our national railway is getting there . Well for 20 nervy minutes, which, by the day s end would turn out to be the most stressful a Munster fan would experience, we were getting nowhere.

As the train groaned back to life, a collective sigh emanated throughout our less than sweet chariot. We were on our way once more.

As Sunday afternoon drifted into Sunday evening, the grin between my ears remained as constant as Munster s match-long tackling drill under a blue Dublin sky.

By match s end, the Leinster side which had conquered all before it in Toulouse looked about as useful as a pork butcher in Jerusalem.

Not only had they lost by 24 points within the throbbing pulse of D4, they had failed to score a try and conceded three, two of those coming in a late flurry from a Munster side minus the sin-binned Federico Pucciariello.

Now much will have been made elsewhere about Leinster s lacklustre display. But in truth, they were simply blown out of the water by a merciless Munster display.

That the team which took to the turf with the greater willingness to re-assert their gilded reputation in this great tournament emerged victorious can be doubted by no-one.

Munster s third European Cup final appearance, a feat achieved by only two other clubs (Leicester and Toulouse, the latter with four) was thoroughly deserved.

From the off, the understanding between both Munster half-backs outshone the surprisingly inharmonious pairing of Guy Easterby and Felipe Contepomi.

Peter Stringer, whose fitness had proven a source of enormous doubt on the eve of Sunday s game, played like a man with no apparent impediment.

Any talk of Munster kite flying regarding Stringer s injury was quickly rejected by coach Declan Kidney in the aftermath of his greatest day as Munster coach.

Outside Stringer, Ronan O Gara played with the look of a man whose right boot knows this stadium s touchlines better than anyone in the game right now.

O Gara s resolutely solid display was in stark contrast to the hapless Contepomi, who won t recall this particular game with any fondness.

Rugby all too easily throws up the vanquished team s penalty kicker as the villain of the piece, as the difference between winning and losing.

But in the context of Sunday s match, to label Contepomi as any of the above is stretching matters a little.

That he had a shocker is undisputed. But those ready to cast stones in the Argentinean s way would do well to remember that without him Leinster would never have progressed to the last four of this year s competition.

If Munster s victory can be described as a salute to classical 15-man rugby, Leinster s shoddy, incoherent effort stemmed from a lack of leadership from full-back through to hooker.

Denis Hickie and Keith Gleeson aside, it s difficult to think of any other Leinster player who came out of this bruising with anything to show on the credit side of things.

While there was little Barbarian-style rugby to note in Munster s team display, they nevertheless produced a magnificently resolute display from first minute til last.

Happy to make the hard yards when required, happy to let O Gara do what he does so well and equally happy to make the big hits, Munster were awesome in all three departments.

Not once did the men in red look like reaching for the panic button, unlike Leinster who couldn t even find it such was their collective pique.
And though there have been greater victories in the past (a certain match in 1978 still stands alone); few in Munster s rugby history have been sweeter than this.

When it comes to natural leadership, there are few players in world rugby better equipped for the task than the remarkable Paul O Connell.

Named man of the match for what seems like the millionth time in his career, the Munster lock has somehow managed to raise the performance bar in every match he s played this season.

The gloom of last summer s Lions tour must seem a distant memory in O Connell s mindset after such a barnstorming season of top-class displays.

Once again, O Connell popped up all over the pitch, eager to tackle, constantly offering support for ball carrying team-mates and bossing proceedings time and time again.

Not only did he play the leader s part impeccably once more, he also provided Jerry Flannery s new licensed premises with some gold-medal winning free advertising in the post-match interview.

As pointed out to me via phone after the game, a TV close-up of O Connell and Flannery saw both men in deep conversation before O Connell s chat with Tracy Piggott.

Was there some time-honoured Munster cute-hoorism at play here? Alas, only the protagonists shall ever know the truth.

Of course, no rugby day would be complete without some good natured jibing and this Munster Expresser was on the receiving end of said jibing within minutes of joining the queue at Plunkett Station.

Through my hardly exemplary attempts to play rugby over the past two seasons with Carrick on Suir RFC, my club has crossed competitive paths with Waterpark RFC on several occasions.

Given the day job, I also jot the club s weekly notes and one of my recent efforts concerning a Ballyrandle Cup match against our city neighbours caused near outrage out Ballinakill way.

Thankfully, the club fell just short of issuing a fatwa against me, so apologies to Salman Rushdie you re still on your own with that one, Salman, ould stock.

It must be stated that we got the living malarkey booted out of us on the day in question, and, flying a kite as note writers sometimes do, I was moved to question the composition of the Waterpark XV.

Just as a Waterparker kicked off a sentence along the lines of You remember what they had in the Carrick notes in the Munster a few weeks ago I, the devilish composer appeared within her eyeshot. The sentence ground to a halt and was succeeded by hearty laughter.

If only I d been standing behind her when she began what would surely have been a magnificent tirade about another of my marvellously well considered club compositions!

Facing down my good natured critics, I stood over my comments, even my refusal to compare Waterpark s display with that of the Barbarians. Come on now boys, I put ye in the same sentence as the All Blacks!

But every word exchanged either way was exactly as it should be when it comes to sport of any kind: good natured and chuckle inducing.

I despair when looking at men and women almost foaming at the mouth, all because of sport. Our passions in life should be there to distract us from the hum-drum of daily existence, not leave us with high blood pressure.

Yes, we all get caught up in sport s compelling drama, be we playing them or watching, but being reminded that it is, after all, just a game, doesn t do even the hardest of die-hards any harm.

Paul O Connell dismissed talk of Munster s destiny in this competition, for a prize that they and their magnificent supporters crave above all others. And he s right games are there to be won and lost and should one lose, there s always another day.

But it s been impossible not to become enraptured with this team s wonderful European adventure over the years.

It s a joy and a privilege to chart this magnificent team s ongoing journey. Could Cardiff on May 20th finally bring the happy ending to the most consistently compelling tale in Irish sport for almost a decade?

As has been the case with the mighty men of Munster since the advent of this magnificent competition, their greatest story awaits writing. Let s hope the penning of such paragraphs is less than a month away.

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Team
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1Leinster Rugby19141469
2Ulster Rugby19140565
3Munster Rugby19140563
4Glasgow Warriors18140460
5Ospreys19111756
6Scarlets1991945
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