Heineken Cup : Munster 19 – Scarlets 13

Munster did it to us again, for the fourth game in a row.  Dragging us to the very brink before finally dogging out a win.  I told you that my friend, Wrinkly Joe, has been told by his doctor to stay on the cigarettes, the saturated fats and the booze but give up Munster rugby because it’s bad for his heart.  Now, I’m inclined to believe that the doctors in Munster should come together and issue a blanket warning to their patients.  Watch this stuff at your peril.

We all thought there would be a backlash after last week’s victory in Llanelli.  Scarlets would want to return the compliment.

And so, as the Geek and I trudged out to Thomond Park on a sharp, sunny forenoon, it was in hope rather than confidence.  Avalon beckoned.  An almost Arthurian mist hung over Limerick as if to make our Welsh visitors feel at home, and perhaps to lull them, but these are knights, not knaves, and they came well prepared for the joust.

Munster fought a rearguard action for much of the game, with neither side helped by referee Dave Pearson who inexplicably forgot to visit Specsavers, judging by the number of infringements he overlooked.  At times, it looked like Scarlets were playing American football, not rugby, if you judged it by the amount of interference running they did without a peep from Pearson’s whistle, but of course, he also overlooked one or two forwardish passes from Munster, so I suppose we can hardly complain.   That’s the professional game: played on the edge of the laws.

Anyway, as usual, they pulled it out of the fire, although I though Scarlets looked more dangerous for most of the game and probably deserved a bit more than their losing bonus point, which could well turn out to be a very important point indeed.

On the positive side, Murray had a great game and so did Zebo  apart from a couple of decidedly dodgy kicks.  Hurley stayed cool under the high ball.  Earls looked efffective but Mafi, I’m afraid, had a howler.  Twice he fluffed gold-plated chances to run for the line, and when he got possession, he seemed unsure what to do with it.

O Gara, as usual, kept his head, and Munster in the game when Scarlets threatened to overrun us, and of course, as normal, Paul O Connell provided the leadership required.

I was never much good with the permutations of league tables but Munster are now in pole position, facing games against Northampton and Castres.  The Saints demolished a demotivated Catres yesterday, 45-0, but will be playing for pride against Munster.

Some work still to be done, but it’s not a bad way to end the year.




Munster 27 — Castres 24

If you had gone into a bookies this morning and said, Excuse me, I’d like to put a tenner on Ronan O Gara making the winning score with the last kick of the game, what do you think they’d have said to you? Any decent bookie would have tucked your folded note into your pocket and sent you home.  Keep your money.  I might be a bookie, but I’m not a thief.

I mentioned this to my beloved son, Bullet, who replied, Imagine the odds you’d have got if you went into a bookie shop last week and bet on O Gara doing it twice.

Half way through today’s game, sharing a delicious scoop or two with Wrinkly Joe, he leaned over and said, You know how this will end, don’t you?

No, I replied.  How will this end?

With eighty minutes on the clock, Munster will have possession, O Gara will be in the pocket and he’ll slot one over.

How we laughed about that.

Guess what?  With eighty minutes on the clock, O Gara dropped into the pocket and slotted one over to win the away game in Stade Toulousain.  Sickener.  If that was Thomond Park, I reckon the entire crowd would have surfed home on a tsunami of barf, but here comes the downside.

It’s great that Munster have pulled the last two games out of the fire, but as a regular contributor here pointed out, they  wouldn’t  have to do that sort of thing if they were managing the breakdown properly, which they are not.  I couldn’t count the number of infringements Munster were penalised for, and even if you think that Wayne Barnes is a particularly whistle-happy referee, it doesn’t matter.  A professional team must assess the referee as much as the opposition, take note of his tendencies, and play the game accordingly.  Referees are not robots and the likes of Munster, twice winners, should have no difficulty adjusting.  I don’t know whose responsibility that is, but ultimately it goes back to Tony McGahan.

Some people are saying that the group is now down to two, since both Northampton and Castres have lost two games, but there’s still a way to go before we can declare anyone dead and buried.  Certainly, Llanelli and Munster are in prime position, but let’s see what happens in the back-to-back December games.



Munster 23 – Northampton 21

Sport can be an allegory for life, but this was a metaphor for the times we live in.  It was inspirational.  An absolute refusal to lie down.  A complete rejection of the obvious truth that they were going to lose.  An overturning of reality.

One point behind and with two minutes left on the clock, Munster decided to dig in and grind out a result.  They put the heads down, they recycled the ball over and over, at one stage going all the way back to the half-way line under pressure from the Saints, but fighting their way on, yard by yard until finally, safe in the pocket, six minutes and 41 phases later, Ronan O Gara slotted as neat a drop goal as you’ll ever see to end Northampton’s hopes.

What a great game, but more importantly, what a great endgame.  I don’t know about you, but I have never witnessed such an exhibition of guts, brains, balls and backbone as we saw tonight in Thomond Park.  However, in case you think I’m being parochial, let me say that this is aimed as much at Northampton as it is at Munster.  They all deserve whatever praise comes their way, although I’d have to admit that I’m a little biased, which is probably forgivable in the circumstances.

It sends out a message: If you want to beat us, you’ll have to produce something out of the ordinary.  I’m sure the Northampton lads are sick tonight, though I don’t take any satisfaction from that.  They’ve always been tough and honourable opponents, and their supporters have always had a good time here in Limerick.  But I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t gloat a tiny bit, if only privately, in my own mind, for a second or two.

This was Munster at its best.  At its absolute best.  It exemplified the ethos that has sustained the effort all these years, the determination to fight back in the face of almost insuperable odds and more often than not, to win.  I couldn’t make it tonight, unfortunately, and I’ll regret that forever because this game surpasses all the miracle matches that I was at.  The only Munster performance I can think of that exceeds this was the All Blacks game.

For two minutes before the 80th, and for a further four afterwards, Munster kept the ball in hand, never making a mistake, never knocking on, never conceding a penalty, completely focussed on one objective: an absolute refusal to be beaten in Thomond Park.  They did that for 41 phases, and I have to say that full credit is also due to Northampton for not conceding a penalty despite the pressure.  Back and forth, east to west, never straying too close to the line, Munster drove it forward, fell back, drove forward again until finally O Gara, the maestro, judged that the moment was right, took his time and slotted the three points, finally allowing Nigel Owens to blow the whistle.

As I said, it was an allegory and a metaphor.  These guys showed us that no matter how hard the times, how tough the opposition, with balls, guts, brains and backbone, you can still fight back and win, provided you show enough downright cussedness.

Marvellous.  I can say no more.



Update.  It’s unfortunate that Saints coach Jim Mallinder is blaming the referee.  I thought he would be bigger than that, as his supporters are.



Leinster 24 – Munster 18

What did you think of the Leinster-Munster game on Friday?  I’m only getting a chance to think of it now due to a weekend of dissipation and ebauchery, but reflecting on it, I think the French referee, Pascal Gauzere,  ruined the game.  As my companion observed with his legendary economy of words, This fucker is whistle-happy.

And so he was.  Gauzere didn’t seem to understand that a referee may use discretion, and that the best officials are the ones who stand back and let the game flow.  This ref seemed to have the idée fixe that he must reach for his whistle at every hint of an infringement.  I thought his performance hinted at a lack of confidence: that perhaps he was trying to impose himself on players he feels in awe of, but all he succeeded in doing was killing the match.

As a game, I thought it was a dull affair, not helped by a worrying injury to Keith Earls’s knee after only 30 seconds.   For now, Munster seem to have forsaken the basics of getting the ball over the gain-line, in favour of a more lateral game.  Perhaps there’s a strategic reason for that, but if there is, I don’t know what it might be.  Having said that, it quickly became obvious that every time they got inside the Leinster twenty-two, M Gauzere was going to blow for a penalty, so there wasn’t much point in going forward anyway.

As we watched it while gulping back glorious pints of Guinness in a favourite city-centre bar, we decided very quickly that Munster were not going to win this game, with the sort of capricious decisions this referee was capable of.  He confirmed this view at about the sixtieth minute by carding Leamy for not releasing, a ridiculous decision by a very poor referee.

I’m not going to blame him for the final score.  It’s never seemly to blame the ref for losing.  Munster had their chances and didn’t turn them into points on the board, but I will blame  him for distorting the game to the extent that we really don’t know how Munster and Leinster stack up against each other.  This must be the most kicks straight in front of goal that Jonny Sexton ever had.

To Munster’s credit, they ground out a bonus point, and I suppose, coming so soon after the World Cup, we were never going to witness a stellar moment in sporting history.  But maybe, if we weren’t cursed on the night with such an anal and unimaginative referee, we might at least have had a solid, competitive game of rugby football between two great rivals.

Instead, sadly, we got Monsieur Gauzere.  I hope he  doesn’t become a recurring nightmare in games to come.


Weekend Round-up

It’s been a busy old weekend between one thing and another.  Plenty happening.  I managed to check out a fair amount of stuff, but somehow contrived to overlook most of the event I’d been looking forward to all year.  Africa Day.




Still, as Padre Pio once remarked to Mother Teresa, You can’t be everywhere!

Of course we never mention Mother Teresa’s reply.  I can!  Vee old nuns all look ze same!!

I bumped into David Norris, which isn’t something I can say every day.   I have bumped into him over the years on Bloomsday, though tho be honest with you, we’ve always done an alternative version, which involved running away from the Joyceans.  I once found myself trapped on top of the Martello tower listening to an appalling delivery of plump stately Buck Mulligan by a fellow Limericker and wishing I could simply be exterminated here and now.   In many ways, that was the end of my fervent Bloomsday career, though I did manage to collect a fair number of Guinness commemorative glasses over the years, provided you disregard the ones I broke out of inebriation.

Here’s a picture of David at the fruit stall.


And here he is looking a trifle perplexed.

The campaigning can’t be easy, but if it’s any consolation, David will be getting my vote anyway, provided he can manage to secure a nomination.  He’s a fine fellow and we need people like him in public office.  Besides, I’ll laugh myself sick if the Ancient Order of Hibernians have to invite him as President of Ireland to officiate at the New York St Patrick’s Day parade.

There weren’t too many old nuns at the Munster-Leinster match yesterday, but I can tell you one thing.  There was no shortage of sleeveens, gombeens, Nama-candidates, snake-oil salesmen, bunco artists, con-men, chancers and three-card-trick merchants present.  And that’s only the lawyers, before we ever get on to the slew of crooked builders and property developers they represent.

Rarely have I seen gathered in one bar such a collection of uneducated, dishonest gobshites as I witnessed yesterday, every one of them with his snout in the trough and enjoying himself, though collectively they have conspired to bring down our country.  And every single one of the dishonest, uneducated, uncultured buffoons with an inflated and unwarranted opinion of himself, and his leathery wife (who caught her accent off a sunbed).  THankfully, Munster Rugby has produced better things, and  how could anyone beat this?  Let’s just put the cynicism to one side for a second and say Aaaaaahhhhh!

So let’s forget the builders and the dodgy solicitors.  Despite this confederacy of dishonest dunces and puffed-up fools who managed to get a law degree when they used to hand them out with bags of crisps, I managed to enjoy the match very much, and why wouldn’t I?  Wasn’t it a great occasion altogether, as Munster reminded our Eastern cousins that taking silverware from Limerick is no easy matter, unless your Daddy happens to be on the board of Nama, yeah?

It’s about shared values and teamwork.

To be fair, now, I think the Leinster players, for the most part, are a fine bunch of lads and why wouldn’t they be, when you consider how many of them have Limerick connections, but sometimes, the supporters can be, how can I put this delicately?

Unaware.  Would that be a kind way of putting it?

Can be, I said.  Not Are. Not always.  Perhaps not even mostly, but when Leinster supporters make arseholes of themselves, they do it with a vengeance.  At the last Munster-Leinster clash, a friend of mine happened to remark to his mates that he thought Munster were a little too lateral.

Lateral? came the comment from the three Ross O’Carrol-Kellys behind him. That’s a big word for Limerick.  Can you spell it?

Yeah, he said, but can your Daddy spell Nama?

Anyway. Let us not concern ourselves too much with that section of the Leinster support.  They’re very much in the minority, even if they happen to be the most vocal.    I sat next to a fine fellow yesterday, wearing a blue shirt.  He was from Kildare, and when the game ended, we shook hands and wished each other all the best.  Later on, I met many decent Leinster people, and I hope they all enjoyed their visit to our city.  They deserved their Heineken Cup win, and we deserved our Magners.  A fair end to the season.

Apart from the rugby, we had culture in the form of the in_flux art fair.


Very soon now, I’m going to set up a company teaching artists the correct use of punctuation, and I’m going to run a special module for people who run art fairs.  Lecture One will be on the Use of the Underscore.  Lecture Two will concern The Correct Use of Capitalisation.  Lecture Three will be called Do You Write? No? Well Then Stop Fucking With What You Don’t Understand Or I’ll Fucking Kill You All Right???

That all seems fairly reasonable to me.

I’d place underscores in the same category as words like nexus, praxis and zeitgeist.

Guys.  Please.  Ok?

What else happened?

Oh yeah.  Nearly forgot.  We all got pissed on Friday night and made highly inappropriate jokes that would have got the whole fucking lot of us fired if we were Guards in Mayo, which, thankfully, we’re not.

And Africa Day.  Damn me for a fool.




Magners League Final 2011. Munster 19 — Leinster 9

Munster ran out comfortably in the end after a game that, for most of the 80 minutes, could have gone either way.  I thought one score would win it — a tough contest, where neither side dominated.

It’s a fair enough end to the season, with the Irish teams sharing the silverware, though Leinster would probably have hoped for a clean sweep.  Who wouldn’t?

Here’s a few pictures.

[scrollGallery id=40]

Munster Rugby — Time For Renewal?

For the first time in 13 years, Munster have failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the  European Cup and people in Limerick are saying all kinds of things about the game.  I spoke to somebody this morning, a person heavily involved in rugby, who couldn’t think of a single good thing to say about the Munster performance.

It’s hard to play against top-class opposition when your back row is missing, I ventured.

Yeah, he agreed.   And your front row.  And your second row.

Was it really that bad?  I certainly thought so.  They squeezed four penalties out of us from the scrum in the first half hour.   We had no forward momentum at all for virtually the entire match, and the scoreline didn’t reflect the fact that Toulon were in complete control.  Wallace’s try came only after they had relaxed, with the game wrapped up.

There was little comfort to take from the performance.

No.  Scratch that.  There was nothing at all to take from it.  Nobody performed well.  Howlett was bustled over the line time after time, but at least he was working hard and nearly scored a try except for an unlucky toe in touch.  The flat ball he received throughout the day didn’t give him much scope to create anything.

Nobody broke the line, a tribute to the Toulon defence, and Donncha O Callaghan’s yellow card from a stupid illegal tackle on an uninvolved man cost us 13 points.  On the other hand, I thought O Gara’s binning was a dreadful decision by the referee.  He was no more guilty than anyone else, and had been the victim of gouging before the fight broke out.   That disrupted Munster’s already scrappy game, but it’s not an excuse.

Toulon were better than us.  Wilkinson was superb.  So were Contepomi, Sackey, Van Niekerk, Mignoni and Bruno.  What am I talking about?  They were all on top form, unlike our fellas who looked tired and dispirited.

It looks like time for a change.  Certainly it looks like time for new coaching staff, and yet we hear that McGahan has been awarded an extension to his contract.  While I wouldn’t like to get into the witch-hunting that characterises soccer management in Britain, it seems a strange decision to extend the manager’s contract before he delivers what he’s paid for: qualification for the final stages.

At the same time, Paul Warwick is leaving, because Munster can’t afford to pay what he’s worth and there’s no doubt that Warwick is one of the best.  A first-class all-rounder, he’ll be missed, but Munster need the money to buy a first-rate prop and with a budget of €3.5 million, they can’t afford the luxury of a new front-row and Paul Warwick, no matter how good he might happen to be.

Apart from the coaching team, what of renewal on the field?  I’d like to think this is a transitional squad, but I don’t see the younger guys coming forward to replace the likes of Hayes, O Gara, Quinlan, O Connell, Wallace or Horan.  Are we at the point where money will define the shape of the new Munster, with bought-in talent outnumbering local players?  Up to now, Munster has welcomed immigrants like Howlett, Warwick, Williams, Langford, Pucciarello, Tipoki and Mafi.  These guys all bought into the party and were adopted as locals, but will the support be the same if the entire team is Australian, Kiwi, South African, Argentinean and Tongan?

This is a defining moment for Club Munster.   Not only is the team losing on the field, but Munster Inc is losing the sympathy of long-established supporters.  Already we hear the rumblings of dissent among the fan-base, who believe the whole thing has become too much of a business and not enough of a tradition.

The pensioners who saw their terrace tickets double and then quadruple in price are starting to ask why they should remain loyal to a corporate entity that seems to care little for them.

When the Munster fans start to feel alienated and ignored, you know it’s time for deep and painful reflection, made all the more painful by the unfortunate behaviour of the Toulon supporters who tore up sheets of newspaper and threw them in the air, shouting Garbage! and Merde! It’s a dirty tradition I was unaware of until somebody explained it to me after the match.

Zut, alors!

Well and good.  Keep doing that and we’ll keep showing respect when your players take their kicks.  But it would be a very long road indeed that had no turning.

Meanwhile, Leinster look effective, organised, incisive and unstoppable.  I think they’ll win the cup and I’ll probably lay a small wager to that effect.


London Irish 23 — Munster 17

Not an entirely disappointing start to the 2010 Heineken Cup campaign, but still a game that could and should have been won.  Munster came away with a bonus point thanks to a sweet little grubber from O Gara that stood up nicely for Munster inside centre Sam Tuitupou to score a last-minute try, but it was partly thanks to the No 12 that they needed such a last-minute reprieve.  Tuitupou, like Lifeimi Mafi last week, in a stupid tackle on Gordon Darcy , cost Munster 3 points and got himself binned for a disgraceful spear-tackle.  He now faces a suspension, joining Mafi in the stand for the next seven or eight weeks if he’s lucky.

London Irish never looked more than ordinary, although Lamb’s kicking was mostly spot-on and Bob Casey was magnificent, but Munster are currently fielding a weakened squad.   Tomás O Leary is out with a broken thumb, Jerry Flannery is still not match fit, and therefore watched the game in the same pub as I did.  Nobody knows when Paul O Connell will return.  Ian Dowling has an injured hip and Keith Earls is not yet up to full speed.

Despite that, Earls never looked less than dangerous and Stringer stepped into the gap for O Leary with characteristic confidence.  There is no end to this man, and despite what his critics say, I have the greatest admiration for him.

There’s little to say about London Irish’s intercept try from Topsy Ojo.  It happens, and it never indicates how a game was evolving, but coming in the first minute of the restart, it certainly punched Munster in the kidneys.

Mushie Buckley, on the other hand, was in my opinion on top of his game and put in his best ever performance in a Munster shirt.  It was a pity that he didn’t manage to carry the ball over the line with 20 minutes to go, which is a surprise for a man of his weight and strength.  Armitage deserves full credit for holding him up but the truth is that  a man of Buckley’s size should have driven his opponent and the ball over the line with no trouble at all.  More coaching needed.  If that try had gone in, Munster were in a position to win the game.

Quinlan’s omission from the bench was a strange decision, and Paul Wallace came on too late, though when he did, his strength, speed and athleticism made a huge difference.

There’s something not entirely right in the Munster management set-up at the moment.   We hear stories of Quinlan storming out and of dissent among the players.  Rumours are circulating that McGahan might have resigned, or might be about to quit.  Nobody knows.

Looking at yesterday’s game, I’m bound to say that I can’t imagine Munster losing if Paul O Connell had been at the helm, if Qunlan and Wallace had been on from the start or if the three-quarters line was operating at full throttle.  Any one of the above would have taken it for us, in my opinion.

Still, not to worry.  London Irish wanted to send the visitors home empty-handed, and they failed. It could yet turn out to be a most valuable bonus point.


Munster Epitaph

Munster’s still warm carcass lies on a mortuary slab in Northern Spain. Outside in the reception area, Mourner-in-Chief Sophie, stands reverentially and alongside Seán the accountant (played with Old Crescent – Sophie played with Seán), both grief stricken.

“Sorry for your trouble Sophie”, whose recently straightened hair and fake tan are holding up well considering her loss.  She shifts her weight uncomfortably from one leg to another and wished she’d worn her Uggs instead of these tight, knee high boots.

“The lineout Michael, the lineout broke down and we just couldn’t establish any sustained, quality, go-forward ball.  Tommy O’Leary got man and ball all day and ROG was under constant pressure in the pocket“

“Jeez Seán, what the hell happened?” from the next sympathizer, a tearful Oisín – a solicitor.

From a hopeful situation, such early promise and with the real chance of a great weekend in Paris later this month avec Les Folies Bergère.

Mais, le Beaujolais nouveau n’est pas arrivé cette année, Sean.”

“Thanks, thanks, try not to make this more difficult than it already is Oisín. Sometimes the X-factor isn’t enough.  George told us this might happen.”

Hysterical Mary, mascara running left, right and centre like Mafi didn’t, was wailing in a back room.

“Our defensive strategy broke down and McGahan didn’t see the holes appearing early enough.”

“Stop jumping up and down Mary, the match is over “said Áine,

“You’ll mess up your outfit and have to change again before we go out this evening in Biarritz”

The ragin Bull Hayes rages no more and the next man who picks him to start in red or green has no humanity or respect. If he must play, play him as an impact sub in the fourth quarter when the others are getting tired and he can match them for strength and energy. This man owes nothing.

We watched events unfold, car-crash like and less in indignation now then we had been five years ago, in a pub –  no one had caved for a pig in poke deal with Rupert Murdoch. There were hundreds there, too many really and like in the old days, space was at a premium but unlike back then people were less friendly, less together. Three men in red shirts jammed together and allowed no one to get a drink and shouted at anyone who stood in front of them, their petulance and arrogance as powerful as another surge from the broken nosed Imanol Harinordoquy, who looked like one of those beaky guys from a Pink Floyd video.

I went around the corner and called a pint only to be told by a girl and her mom that “there was a match on”

The 1st time I noticed Denis Hurley was when he was being subbed by Scott Deasy. I’d forgotten he was on the pitch and in a way that defined the match, Biarritz saw that Munster’s weakest link was their ageing set of forwards and this is where they attacked, time and time again. Experience counts for nothing in the face of a gang of twenty somethings coming into their own on a Sunday afternoon.

The bookies had us @ 11:10 on, and there are no bare foot bookies in Limerick today.

I met a couple of older fellas this afternoon in the Duck, and eventually someone woke up and mentioned the match. They owe us nothing – ten good years – two European cups and great fun.

It is time to write the epitaph on this great team and it should be coloured red, vivid and energised with the verve and excitement which they carried with them.

From that annihilation in Toulouse maybe a decade back when the legends were only starting out, to an early summer’s day in Spain, when most travelled in expectation and the bookies crossed their fingers, it’s been some journey.

Mary gathered herself and thought about the nice meal and glass of wine. She looked over the Mass cards – so lonely around the fields of anthenry. Sophie hitched up her slightly too tight jeans and exhaled for the last time “Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God” and turned to her partner crying,

Seán, Seán, but what about the Chardonnay?


de Villiers to Leave Munster

Munster’s brief flirtation with Bok centre Jean de Villiers will conclude at the end of this season it was today confirmed.

Signed at the beginning of the season and on a contract believed to be worth up to €5,000 a week, de Villiers was expected to invoke a clause allowing him to remain with the two times European Cup winners for another term.

However, the South African, who missed the 2003 World Cup through injury and who only played in one game in the 2007 event, said today that he wants one last shot at glory with the Boks at the 2011 World Cup.

“I feel this is perhaps my last opportunity to represents my country at the Rugby World Cup and after consultation with SARU it has become clear that to qualify for selection players must be playing their rugby in South Africa in the season leading up to the competition. ”

“I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here in Munster and I think it would be fair to say that had the World Cup not been a factor, then I would be remaining for at least the next two seasons. I would not rule out returning here after 2011 World Cup either, if the opportunity arose.”

Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald said that de Villiers desire to represent South Africa in the blue riband tournament of international rugby was totally understandable.

Fitzgerald added that de Villiers made them aware of the situation before he signed and that he will leave with the very best wishes of the Irish province.