SINCE 2006, I reckoned that seeing Munster win their first Heineken Cup in Cardiff was and would remain the most joyful sporting experience I would ever encounter. I was delighted to have my father at my side to embrace when the final whistle blew as it had been he who first brought me to Munster games and introduced me to rugby.
For us, the final in Cardiff in 2006 felt like the end of a long journey that had started many years before but in earnest in 2000 when Munster had reached their first European final. It was the sense of having accompanied the players all the way on this journey that made it all the more satisfactory when they claimed what was rightfully theirs after so much heartbreak.
Yesterday’s events though were a reminder that my father and I started a journey long before Munster Rugby became the juggernaut it is today and they also surpassed he 2006 Heineken Cup Final for the most exhilarating sporting event I have ever experienced.
For yesterday Bruff – my club since I was 8-years-old and only a senior club since 2004 – won the Munster Senior Cup, beating Garryowen, one of the oldest and most decorated clubs in the country.
And for all the excitement and undoubted pride I felt in watching Munster climb to the peak of European rugby in 2006, it just couldn’t compare to how it felt to watch our team do something that even at the start of this year would have been considered somewhat preposterous and a few years back, plain impossible.
The difference is this. I grew up idolising the Munster players whereas I grew up with the Bruff players.
I went to school with some of them, made my confirmation with a few of them, continue to train with them, won with them, lost with them and went on the piss countless times with them. And yesterday I could share in my fellow club members’ joy more than I ever could have with a Munster team of professionals, none of whom I know personally.
This isn’t a jab at Munster either, I remain a staunch supporter of the provincial side and will attend as many of their games in the future as my wallet will allow. But Munster, by its nature of being a professional team of elite athletes, could never inspire the emotions in me that Bruff did yesterday.
Just as in 2006, my father and I attended the game and afterwards he showed a rare giddiness that I didn’t see in him four years ago. He was incredulous that the tiny club he had joined in the 70s could have won a competition that for decades was the most tightly contested in the country.
After reaching two finals and coming so close to claiming the Heineken Cup over the years, I suppose it wasn’t a shock to him that Munster had finally won at the third attempt.
But Bruff? Winning a Munster Senior Cup? As the trainers told the players at the end of training on Thursday night, “Up until now, that’s just been unheard of.”