After the crescendo it was back down to earth with a bang…The official club rugby season is just over. Three weeks since Munster’s last league game against Zebre and four since the semi final in Montpellier, I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I miss the anticipation, the speculation on the team before it is picked, the anxious viewing of the weather forecast and injury updates before match day dawns, the pre-match catch-up with my friends on the terrace, the match itself and the post match post-mortem, watching the game again which of course I had recorded from the TV, reading the analysis on the papers, on twitter and on the fans forum, writing my blog,…before the cycle begins again for the next game… No wonder people think I am a bit obsessed about Munster rugby!
Despite the lack of competitive action it has not been all quiet on the Munster front in recent weeks. We witnessed a show of solidarity from the team in poignant scenes from Donal Walsh’s funeral. May he rest in peace and his memory live on (see the Legacy blog for more details). Two Munstermen were selected for the British and Irish Lions (Paul O’Connell and Conor Murray) while others must be on the standby list. Six players were selected for the tour to play for Ireland against the USA and Canada including Tommy O’Donnell and Mike Sherry who should win their first International caps. Also travelling to America are Peter O’Mahony who has been promoted to Captain after Rory Best was called up to the Lions squad, Dave Kilcoyne, Simon Zebo and Felix Jones, while 4 were selected for the Emerging Ireland tour to Georgia – Ian Keatley, Ian Nagle, John Ryan and David Foley. Tommy O’Donnell picked up his first Player of the Year award fighting off competition from Dave Kilcoyne and Simon Zebo, the latter picked up the Young Player of the Year award. Billy Holland who played in all 22 league games this season (26 appearances in total) won the IRUPA Unsung Hero award while Simon Zebo won the IRUPA Supporters’ Player of the Year as voted for by fans.
The decision was finally made to move to one training centre from the traditional 2 bases (Cork and Limerick). UL was selected and this change in the regime should improve the team cohesion further and help it to be more successful which is what everyone wants. On the finance side a new sponsor has been found or rather a return to the old sponsor, so it is time to see if those Bank of Ireland jerseys still fit after 9 seasons. Unfortunately for Munster due to the current economy the new deal only provides about half the funding of the previous Toyota deal so it will be important to maximise revenue through match and concert attendances and by qualifying for more home games in the knock out stages of the season – ideally in both the league and European competitions.
Two key members of the team announced their retirements. Doug Howlett who arrived in January 2008 was forced to retire as a result of the injury he sustained in the Glasgow game as he scored a consolation try in March. When he signed for Munster we were delighted that such a global superstar, the leading try scorer for the All Blacks who had been involved in their 2007 World Cup campaign – where he set his record of scoring 49 tries in 62 tests for the All Blacks – chose to play for Munster. He scored 35 tries during his career with Munster but will be remembered for a lot more than his predator instincts near the try line and his hairstyle which made “Dougie” wigs a common sight at Munster games!
One of the abiding memories will be the Munster Haka (maka) when alongside Rua, Lifemi and Jeremy he threw down the challenge to the visiting All Blacks team. Relive the details of that fantastic night at Thomond in Munster v New Zealand 2008 blog. His ability to read the game, his “Howlettser” tackle technique and his contribution to the scrum when a forward was in the sinbin are all part of his legacy – I remember Munster winning a scrum against the head when he was in the scrum, all of which contributes to his legendary status. The younger players will have benefitted from playing and training alongside him so we hope to reap the benefits of his commitment to Munster for years to come.
It is hard to imagine Ronan O’Gara no longer playing for Munster. Since 1997 he played 240 times in the pivotal 10 position, guiding Munster to glory in the Celtic League, Celtic Cup, Magners League and 2 European cup titles. He contributed an amazing 2,625 points including 1,365 European Cup points to become the all time leading points scorer and most influential player in that competition. There are too many memories from such an illustrious career to do the man justice but included in my highlights are his undiluted joy as he scored the try against Leinster in the 2006 semi-final and hurdled the hoardings to celebrate with fans and his jump for joy after scoring the drop goal against Northampton – maybe because he is normally so composed and focused especially as he steps up to take pressure kicks. There is also his brutal honesty in interviews, the famous declaration that he did not think English players were better than Irish players when he went on to walk the talk in the Leicester stronghold of Welford Road. How often did we witness his tactical kicking from hand when he seemed to have a laser guidance system directing the ball deep into the corner to set up a great attacking position?
While tackling was not his strength, he never shirked it. Given how often he was targeted (the perceived weak link) his body took a fair amount of battering. His trusty lieutenant David Wallace was often in midfield beside him to help cover the challenge there. I recall seeing his knee being stitched on the sideline in the Castres away semi final in 2002 and all he wanted to do was to get back on the pitch asap which he did and helped Munster to their 2nd appearance in the Heineken Cup final that season!
So his salute to the fans in Montpellier with son Rua in his arms was the farewell of our proud and emotional Munsterman born in San Diego. He is a great competitor, driven, focused and tactically astute. I wish him well as he starts his career in coaching at Racing Metro next season. It will be interesting to read his insights in his new weekly column for the Irish Examiner. Also worth checking out his humorous interview on BBC5 Live Rugby and his appearance on TodayFM with Mario doing the giftgrub ROG and Paulie talking to the real ROG whose daughter Molly got in on the act TodayFM interview
Best wishes also to Peter Stringer at Bath, Wian du Preez in South Africa, Scott Deasy, Danny Barnes, Sean Henry, Christy Condon and Sean Scanlon as they move on to other clubs as well as Marcus Horan whose retirement was covered in the Legacy blog. Here is a short video of the departing players saying goodbye and thanks for the support
Thanks to Peter Stringer for sharing this cute photo of ROG and Strings as young fellas
Next month the Ireland and Lions games will keep us going and when we get the ERC pool draw the planning for our new campaign can commence.
Thanks to Daryl for use of his photos taken from his large collection at www.dfeehely.blogspot.com
Thanks for reading the WestTerraceView. Appreciate all the retweets, facebook shares and encouragement received from readers. Roll on the 2013/14 season…counting down to the pre-season friendlies already…getting through the withdrawal symptoms… “hello, my name is Gayl and I am a rugby addict…”