Neglecting The Soul of Rugby

Sniffle reflects on the importance of the junior game

It’s a speck high up over Pa Healy’s field. The long diagonal isn’t spinning like it does on TV; you’re transfixed by the unpredictability. The chaotic twisting is matched by the gusting Antarctic wind ripping along the Abbey River behind you. Your hands are blue and the pungent smell of other people lingers on your black and blue jersey. The tape holding the sole onto your right boot has loosened, you have no sensation below the ankle and you’re standing in a puddle of muddy frozen water. There is no suspended animation Matrix moment; you are very present and very frightened. Four people in light blue shirts are charging at you in anticipation of you catching the ball which you have not yet decided to do. The gusting wind whips it right and left and you shift your sodden feet in anticipation, but you’re hoping that the full back will come in behind and call it as his. He doesn’t. (Actually you remember afterwards, him smiling and shouting your ball). The ball arrives with the four blue shirts and in an instant; you are thrown backwards and violently to the ground. There are multiple shocks, the first dive into an early Spring Atlantic, being mugged by a gang of very big and very vicious people. You’ve dropped the ball, metaphorically too for they have it now, you are discarded and shoed and you look up from the flat of your back at where that speck first floated into your view and for a moment, you notice how nice the winter sky looks and then someone shouts Get up!

Junior rugby players are world class athletes, short some talent speed and coordination, and the junior team is the soul of rugby. You can have your Heineken cup and your Grand Slam, but until you have played in or watched the 3rd round of the Munster Junior cup, the whole concept escapes you. Yes the Munster crowd travel to Biarritz and frame their weekends with a match and a glass of Pinot Noir, but this is in the cheap seats when compared with a match against Kilfeacle and the near-death experience from exposure in the shadow of the Galtees. Paul O’Connell still remembers this place when he called it Killpeople. And as you sit in the dressing-room before the match waiting, waiting to be selected, when to be picked is the most important thing in your world because you haven’t yet found love, and the adults come by and point, tog off, tog off, tog off, fuck off and give your boots to him, you can handle any rejection in life. There are some who are gifted, who are only passing through on their way to the Senior Team, and you wish they’d hurry up and then remember that there’ll be another fucker coming down.

It's all for the glamour of course, The Club Rugby Game.
It's all for the glamour of course, The Club Rugby Game.

These days they bring their own water bottles and power drinks and are never short bandages, double sided tape, Vaseline or tear inducing wintergreen. These days they have their own shampoo and even dye their hair. I suppose these days they might even be better, but I wonder. There’s an iconic match from a hundred years ago where a Barbarian team beat the All Blacks and Phil Bennet danced around Twickenham before Michael Jackson ever played rugby, where that big poncy David Duckham with his Brideshead Revisited blond head cut through the New Zealanders, and before I knew what apartheid was we cheered for the mad paddies Willie John and Fergus Slattary. And later when we went out to play in an Under-13 match against the Cookies, when they were still called Young Munster, well for a moment we were an amalgamation of that lot until Tom Clifford’s young fella ran though us like a ten-pin bowling ball hitting a strike.

There’s a poverty escape in professional rugby which is not talked about much, where Tsunami ozone breathing South Sea islanders learn a choreographed haka and the crowd cheer and roar and yes it is some sight, but it’s a veneer and a fragile one in this part of the world anyway. The game here appears in rude health like the Irish economy did a heartbeat ago and just like the basket case the economy has become, the fundamentals in the game are being neglected. So before the hoopla re-commences in September with the unseemly scramble for tickets which reminds me of everything which is wrong with the human race, before the red and blue madness descends on Limerick and Dublin, take a stroll down the canal bank on a Sunday morning and spare a thought for Richmond or Saints as they battle manfully against giants from Clonakility or Scariff. The loved-up bubble in Thomond Park will not last forever.

There was a chess player who used to play on the wing. Dan was wicked fast, with blinding speed and brave in the tackle. The only problem was he used to work on his Sicilian Defence when he should have been working on our defence. But we loved Dan and used to shout at him constantly to tune in or cop on because no one was faster. Eventually we learned to drop back behind him cause we knew he was doing the pawn to king 4 thing. Tracy, Ryle or their own personal Jesus, George Hook, won’t understand Dan and how important he is to the game, how he contributes to the soul of the club and how he is as essential to the success of Irish Rugby as Paulie or Drico.

28 thoughts on “Neglecting The Soul of Rugby

  1. Sniffle, poetry to my ears, well said. Echoes of a different time when everyone lived, ate and drank real rugby in this town. Christ I could feel the ice-cold water numbing my feet waiting for a line-out because someone thought it would be a crack if we made Nuxer Ryan pack leader and had him make the calls. Priceless now, pneumonia country then. After training listening to ould fellas scorning our taking a shower (usually cold as the fuckers were so tight with the gas bill it was only turned on after matches) and hearing for the umpteenth time about how Carneys’ stream never did them an ounce of harm. Wonder what they’d make of the hairgel, fake tans ,deodorants and rub-downs in todays dressing rooms.

    And for ……”the Cookies, when they were still called Young Munster” my heartfelt thanks, that fucking Cookie epitaph – wasn’t even remotely funny when some Red Army type coined it first and it still draws water from my teeth. btw was that Mick or Jerry Clifford who blew ye away. I remember Jerry playing U14’s and he was over six foot tall !

    Ignoring the fundamentals seems to be the name of the game. I just hope that the tradition and roots which brought about this phenomenon are allowed to flourish once again before its too late. Like putting the latter stages of the Senior and Junior Cups on in March & April rather than before Christmas and killing off the season for most clubs.

    We had something unique here, why in the glare of a shiny new stadium, the powers that be turned their backs on the Clubs is a decision that will come back to haunt them.

    The “Munster Magic” was and should always be based on the club rivalries, of not wanting to leave yourself or club down in front of the others, the bond of bitterness and resentment that comes out of those muddy fields and from under that dreaded high ball that really made a man of you , and proved that those tweety birds circling around a battered head in the cartoons really do exist.

  2. then there was us, the fellows who played junior seconds and now and then might get a game on the first time. Sweat , mud ,blood and then in for a few pints. bag men who had to collect a quid to get the gear washed. We played some teams so often you knew the names of the players.
    I don’t think anyone ever payed to see me play, or thousands like me. To this add the fellows who lined the pitch, sold raffel tickets, cut the grass trained the teams ( no fees or expences then)

    Here how you pick a J2 team first, have you a front row, then pick the out half, then fill in around that.
    glory was to win a round in the web cup.

  3. Hi Hoof, it was Jerry. Frightened the living shite out of me, But you know, he probably had it too easy and couldn’t compete when we all nearly caught up with him size wise. I think he might admit to that as well., It sounds like you could have written this piece too, you remembered the SHOCK. Now all we need to do is get people interested in the soul of the game.

    de fan you’re so right..We’re the people who make this game what it is. I used to hate them talented fuckers, with their speed and coordination and confidence.

  4. now thats real men & real rugby that ye are talking about…U hear this shit munster this munster that .Mock supporters all full of shit….haw/haw did u see that gerry it was a disgraceful perfomance the 2 no 3s chaps throwing punchs.. they dont even know the position that has 3 on the jersey..fucking carpet supporters talking shit after a few g&ts…you wont see them out knee high in shit & muck on a sunday at any Senior and Junior matches..then when u get on the munster team you hear them saying oh he was always a good player even though they never seen him play underage or junior games thinking they know it all…wankers i hate

  5. Music to my ears, I’ve been going on about this for ages, though not as elequently. The joys and sheer bliss of club rugby, the bonds and comraderie .. priceless. You wore your club jersey with pride, you belonged to a tribe, a sect, a family. You did your best to kick the shit out of your opposite number and / or the young one at outhalf, and then drank with him for the evening. The social scene was excellent, away games that you may or may get home from, no mobiles or texting. To hear the gabhals on the terraces and in the stands breaks my heart and boils my blood. “I have a problem with 15” “Gwan the Bull” they don’t even know what John Hayes does for fuck sake. They’re head to toe in munster red or Lions red as seen recently, they know the players by their nicknames and have supported munster “all their lives”. Bullshit. The clubs are the heart and soul or Irish rugby,

  6. Could not agree more with all your correspondents, As a young man I played in the North of England mostly in Rugby League country, which I can assure you was as hard as any Limerick games. Standing out on the wing on a colliery pitch freezing for 3/4s of a game, then some prat throws you a bad pass, then calls you a stupid bollox for dropping it, those were the days !! I have also played in Limerick and in the Welsh valleys where they take Rugby very seriously indeed. With regard to johnny-come-lately Munster supporters I was horrified on one away trip to see them in their Munster jerseys on match day and wearing their Manchester United jerseys the following day,!! Professional rugby may be all very well but I would hate to see it destroy the club rugby I loved (and still do) and ruin my game.

  7. im going back to training next week so i can spend the next few months roaring at my pack out wide while i freeze to death on the wing but i dont care because i love it and everything about it, great piece of writing there mate

  8. Ahh, Those were the days, now sadly left behind me. Muck, dirt, blood, four inches of water on the pitch, once having to pump out a fellow player in the middle of Derryknockane under six inches of water at the bottom of a Ruck (A rest break) with Claw playing against me as a prop in a J1 game FFSake :-)
    I broke my leg on Pa Healy’s field as a young fellah playing out with the girls (Center for the day because the bollix that was supposed to play there didn’t turn up), Went into a tackle and felt the snap, tried to walk on it for a few minutes feeling no pain because of the shock I’d say, when I saw the black spots appearing in front of me eyes I knew something was fucked, then came the pain…..Four hours in the regional without getting to see a doctor, cast in St. Johns the following morning.

    My last game on that pitch was similar, we had a bare fifteen in the semi-final of the McInerny Cup, and managed to pull it off with thirteen forwards and two backs, this time I played in the centre again having semi-retired to “Management” for a couple of years.(In other words I stopped training). And fair play to “Porky” and the rest of the St. Mary’s boys, they came in and shouted for us as we beat Garryowen in the final in TP a week or so later. My one and only medal in twenty five years on the pitch.

    I know all about getting the front row and then the outhalf and see what the fuck after that. I have a fantastic picture of a Club founder and president at fifty banging his head in the corner of the dressing room saying “No Willie” talking himself out of playing because we only had twelve against Scariff. (We won that one as well strangely enough).
    I’ve a game played in every position on the pitch except scrum half (Only a half game). If we were any good, we wouldn’t have had half the crack. Sunday Morning Gleeson League games finished at three in the morning monday on the floor somewhere. How many times meself and Currie Hanly flogged one another up on “the hill” (Kilfeacle) I’ll never know, but again like the stories above, we had a few pints and a great game of poker with him on the boat coming back from the first HC win in Cardiff. Gettin me nose and a rib busted by one of the Faul triplets inside the bottom of a ruck across the road from Claughán (Where are they now, haven’t seen any of them in years).

    When it gets into the blood boys, it never leaves, hence I’m still involved in the club twenty eight years after I first walked onto the pitch in “Chicken’s” Boots.

  9. Brilliant.

    I haven’t done any of that, at least not to that extent but I have played a few games of chess with Dan and he did it with his eyes closed while I called out the moves. I never beat him in chess, he was gifted back then.
    Only meet at funerals now.

  10. brilliant piece of writing and a lot of memories brought back,well done.this piece should be handed out at the gates to every (die hard) munster supporter on match days,might shut a few of them up.I think the fauls ended up in england,their dad lived near us,nice fella,they were 3 big hard blokes but sound

  11. Isn’t great that just like all politics being local, all rugby is parochial.

    @John, not sure if I qualify as a real man, I might have played senior

    @ No 8, yes, yes, the tribe and the belonging , that’s it .

    @ Perfidious Albion, wonderfil moniker there. Yep, the Rhonda valley produced some players .

    @ outwide, just like that song, “it’s a love thing” and so hard to explain too .

    @ Great Zucchini, looks like you’ve written an excellent post there kid. Jeez. the Fauls, noone messed with them. And you mentioned blood, yes that’s where it gets into . Four hours in the regional, horrible and I think I had a pair of this chicken’s boots too.

    @unstranger – You might be surprised to what extent you actually belong with this group of legends.

    @imbatman, thanks very much and yes the Fauls, big and hard and very, very fast.

  12. in the late 70s ,mallow v fermoy junior 3 ,all togged out getting ready for the kick off ,captains talking to the ref ,coin in the air ,us with the wind ,our out half ready to kick off,wheres the ball ? no ball ,no game ,everyone to the pub ,what a laugh

  13. Sniffle,
    There was thirty in front of me when I got into the dreaded A & E and still thirty four hours later, I decided that it was only a sprain and went home, the said “Chicken” carting me after staying with me and then giving me a pair of crutches from his mother on the way home. I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night and was a well chastened boy in Johns the following day with the abuse I got. 8 weeks in a cast.
    Kevin: To be fair in a lot of our “games” the ball was of no consequence, it got in the way of the trench warfare most of the time :-) A good mate of mine (one time prop, now club chairman) often said that it was a great day when you didn’t see the ball from one end of the game to the other, except maybe when I hooked it back beside him :-).

  14. A wonderful piece of writing, and we have it all to look forward to again in September, and this time i got wellies to compliment the socks gloves hat and thermals lol woo hoo

  15. remeber no t for the outhalf made his own out of the muck with his heel around & around till he had a little mountain of muck 2 put the ball on

  16. Or, if there was a Thirds game on in the afternoon, at least one of the wingers would have a transistor radio in his pocket to listen to sports results and racing because the only time he’d get to run for the ball was if it was kicked into touch.

    We had a full back once who was as blind as a bat, but in fairness could drink and sing for Ireland. One day the ball came sailing over his head and he scattered back to retrieve it. As the opposing kicker was haring towards the ball, cries of “go down on it” were quickly answered as our no.15 dived on the white object stuck in the mud. Its true what they say, once you’ve heard a seagull screaming in fear of its mortal life, you never forget it.

    @Sniffle, you’re on the ball about Jerry C.

  17. its a very rare 2 see a munster player or any other pro player covered in muck and soaking 2 the bone not like j&senior club rugby players..Oh they might get hurt playing in the mud next they will want heated pitchs incase they get cold when they are on the grond in a ruck r they will change the rules again no rucks ,mauls scrums {A fuck it} the rules will be if u look at the player with the ball he has 2 pass it .No contact 2b made at anytime what so ever dangerous play…I love cottonwool rugby.

  18. You know what though, I would have been brilliant at those un-contested scrums .

    My pal Liam tells me that nostalgia is not what it used to be, I think he might be wrong !

  19. I saw a great sign up behind the bar in John Hayes’s Pub in cappamore:
    “Rugby Players: The older we get, the better we were!”

  20. Any way of finding a fixture list? I live close enough and have wandered by the canal occasionally when a match was on. Been meaning to catch a game or two.

  21. heres a few up comming fixtures

    ODM Munster Senior Cup

    12/09/2009 14:30 Bruff v Young Munster Kilballyowen Park
    12/09/2009 14:30 Cashel v Nenagh Ormond Cashel
    12/09/2009 14:30 Clonakilty v Shannon The Vale
    12/09/2009 14:30 Garryowen v Dolphin Dooradoyle
    12/09/2009 14:30 Midleton v U.C.C. Towns Park
    12/09/2009 14:30 Sundays Well v Cork Constitution Musgrave Park
    12/09/2009 14:30 Thomond v Highfield Fitzgerald Park
    12/09/2009 14:30 U.L. Bohemian v Old Crescent Annacotty

    Junior Clubs Challenge Cup

    Tralee v Cashel Tralee
    Ballincollig v Skibbereen Tanner Park
    Clonmel v St. Senan’s Clonmel
    Richmond v Thurles Garryowen Green

    First Round – Weekending 28 August
    A U.L. Bohemian v Old Crescent
    B Shannon v Thomond
    C Nenagh Ormond v Garryowen
    D Young Munster v Bruff

    Semi Finals:
    Sat 5th Sept “C” v “A”
    Sun 6th Sept: “D” v “B”

    Final 26th September

  23. Senior Cup in September. Sacrilige!

    Just about sums up the current Munster Branchs’ attitude to the Club game in a nutshell.

  24. Very well written. Long live the club game, the Pros move from province to province and play a different game, good luck to them. For me the only difference between playing on the wing and being a spectator was that the spectators got to wear warm coats!

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