An article about the human side of Paul O’Connell – including his friendship with Donal Walsh – appeared in the Irish Independent on Saturday and made for interesting reading http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/the-secret-softer-side-of-paul-oconnell-29193472.html It was a welcome contrast to the “fear of God” stereotype, providing an insight to the man who has brought so much to Munster over many years and seems to have single-handedly revived our season, although he himself gives great credit to the work ethic of the squad and in particular the younger guys coming through.
On Sunday the paper published an article by Donal in which he details in a very honest, matter-of-fact yet moving manner, his four year battle with cancer: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/donal-walsh-i-wanted-to-live-to-play-for-munster-to-travel-the-whole-world-29194810.html
Donal was also interviewed on the Saturday Night Show on April 6. His full interview is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q076my5KCOI&feature=youtu.be
His article and interview are part of his legacy and I wanted to share it here with his fellow Munster supporters. I am in awe of him and his positivity and wish him well as he continues to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” This morning I noticed the thought for the month on my calendar was applicable, “Life is a grindstone, whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us”- Thomas Holdcroft. The sparkle from Donal’s words has already inspired many to appreciate what they have.
Update May 13: Sadly Donal lost his battle with cancer on May 12th, 2013. May he rest in peace and may his legacy live on through his letter, article and the video he recorded for an anti-suicide campaign for secondary schools.
Prior to kick-off the Thomond Park faithful had an opportunity to say farewell and thanks to Marcus Horan who announced his retirement this week from professional rugby after 214 caps for Munster and 67 for Ireland.
The MC interviewed Marcus on the pitch where he was joined by his wife and family. Marcus had a great career with Munster and Ireland but game time has been limited this season. He will be fondly remembered for his exploits, scoring some of his 25 tries for Munster by lurking on the wing long before Rob Penney brought the Canterbury style to Munster. Horan joins the other former Munster players who have contributed so much to the legacy of the club. As they say the players only mind the jersey to hand on to the next generation and Dave Kilcoyne the current wearer of the # 1 jersey has taken up the baton and added his own style to the role.
A home game against our provincial rivals Leinster requires no special motivation. We were hoping that the team would build on their performance from the previous week and ensure that the Glasgow game was consigned to the history books as a one-off result. With two additional days to recover from their Amlin Cup quarter-final in London, Leinster also had the incentive of playing for a home semi-final in the League. Both coaches had named strong teams for the encounter. Players who had been team mates during the Six Nations went toe to toe in their provincial colours. There were plenty of off the ball incidents throughout the game. It was great to watch 2 all Irish qualified front rows take each other on and see how far Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer have come this season as they did not take a step back from Cian Healy and Mike Ross the incumbent props for Ireland and Leinster. James Cronin also made his senior debut towards the end of the second half. Munster had the edge in the second row with Paul and Donncha putting Leo and Quinn under pressure while in the backrow Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and James Coughlan continued from where they had left off in London, with plenty of big tackles, ball carrying and turnovers. There was no lacking in intensity from either side.
Downey and Laulala also built on last weeks performance. Casey has made the highest number of offloads in the league this season, an impressive 45. If Munster can improve the lines they run off him they will do serious damage! Zebo continued his great form on his return from injury, whenever he gets the ball it energises the crowd. His new movember look did not seem to impact his aerodynamics!
Saturday was a windy night in Limerick and the forecasted rain arrived about 20 minutes into the game making playing conditions difficult but the game itself continued to be played at a high tempo. Leinster had the wind behind them for the first half and were denied by the TMO after Rob Kearney chased a kick ahead but it could not be seen that he had grounded the ball. They did however score first, second and third to lead by 9-0 after twenty minutes. However Munster kept up the pressure and it paid off when Ian Keatley scored a try after great turnovers, first by Peter O’Mahony and then by Damien Varley.
The forwards rumbled forward in a great maul from the lineout as the crowd roared at them to “heave”. After several phases, Ian was involved in setting up Felix Jones for the second try at the opposite side of the pitch to bring the score to 9-10. Ian Madigan restored Leinster’s lead with a fourth penalty before the break. The referee Nigel Owens was not a popular man on the terraces. Sometimes in the replay on the big screen you can see why he awarded a penalty and sometimes you can’t, it felt one sided but looking at the match stats Munster conceded 11 to Leinsters 9, just they got many of theirs in the first half when they had the wind behind them so they tended to be in kickable positions or in the second half to relieve pressure when Munster were in a good position.
At halftime there was a warm reception for Fiona Hayes from the Irish Womens rugby team and their coach Philip Doyle. Their recent successful Grand Slam campaign was the highlight from the Six Nations and it was great to see them in Thomond Park with their trophy. Maybe some future players present were inspired by their success and will get involved in the sport. The Munster Rugby Supporters Club also took to the pitch to present a cheque for €140,000 to the Munster Academy to support their costs in developing the next generation of players.
It was deja vu time when the second half started like the Stoop as Keatley converted two early penalties, one from 55m out assisted by the strong wind behind him but the key talking point from the half was the injury suffered by Dave Kearney. When you are at the game the big screen does not show replays of such incidents so I thought he was injured from his fall after gathering a high ball and colliding with Felix Jones. Viewers at home saw the incident from various angles and in slow motion it looked terrible. Dave had placed the ball behind his head but his own team did not dive on it so Paul O’Connell stuck out his foot to hack it forward and accidentally his shin made contact with Dave’s head. Play was stopped and a stretcher summoned. Dave’s brother Rob gave us the thumbs up that Dave was ok, albeit concussed and play resumed with Andrew Conway coming onto the wing for Leinster. He has signed to come to Munster next season so we watched him with interest.
Leinster came hunting for the win. Munster defended heroically but after 27 phases of play Brian O’Driscoll stretched over the ruck to touchdown in what may be his final game in Thomond. What a legacy he has contributed to Irish rugby and what hunger he showed, involved three times in the build-up and his celebrations at full-time showed us how much this meant to him! Munster kept playing to the end, battering the Leinster line, cheered on by the crowd, knowing a converted try would secure them the win but the blue line held firm, maybe it was a bridge too far after their recent exertions.
Given the fact that we were no longer in contention for a top four playoff place in the league table, the key concern going into the game was to avoid further injuries and with hindsight I will add citings to that. Donncha O’Callaghan retired injured after 53 minutes and his knee was immediately iced up. Casey required running repairs in the first half while Zebo seemed to have a niggle in the second half, requiring the attention of the medics on a few occasions but both played the full 80 minutes. The citing commissioner ruled that Paul O’Connell’s injuring of Dave Kearney was careless but there was no intent and no case to answer. Thankfully the reports are that Dave will be back playing in a few weeks. The incident has been debated on forums, newspaper online comments and radio programmes and has polarised opinion almost to the same extent as Saipan.
Next Fridays game away to Dragons will be a good opportunity for some of the A team to warm up for their B&I Cup semi final against Leinster A as the front line players are rested after two tough, physical encounters in preparation for their key game in Montpellier the following weekend.
Match stats available: http://www.espnscrum.com/rabodirect-pro12-2012-13/rugby/match/167100.html
Munster: F Jones; D Hurley, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne , D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell capt; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell , J Coughlan. Replacements: M Sherry, J Cronin, BJ Botha, B Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, I Dineen.
Leinster: R Kearney; D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; L Cullen, Q Roux; S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Strauss, J McGrath, M Bent, D Toner, K McLaughlin, J Cooney, A Goodman, A Conway.
Photos this week kindly provided by Linda Molloy – http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindamolloy/ except for the photo of Marcus Horan provided by Daryl Feehely and my own photo of a lineout.