Sadly there was to be no fairytale ending to the fourteen season spanning contribution of Paul O’Connell to Munster. Maybe the emotion of the day got to the players as it had to me just reading some of the tributes to him in the papers that morning. Maybe Glasgow had learnt a lesson from their defeat to Leinster in the previous final. They were definitely the better team on the day and while disappointed as a Munster supporter you can’t begrudge them their victory. I just did not expect it to be so emphatic. I would say one-sided but looking at the match stats below it was far from that in all except the scoreline as Munster gave it their all but could not break down the resolute Glasgow defence. The three internationals, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and Conor Murray were missed but at the end of a long season both teams had injury issues.
Here are some of the tributes I enjoyed over the past few days – 5 video highlights from the Examiner and a photo collection from the42.ie as we say #ThanksPaulie. He got a tremendous reception as he appeared for the warm-up from the gathering Munster supporters around the ground.
Update June 2nd: IRFU to release Paul O’Connell from his contract post RWC. See statement here
I met John Crowley while having a cup of tea on arrival and he kindly provided me with a free ref link which gave me a great insight into Nigel Owen’s interactions with his TMO and the players. My ticket was for the Memorial terrace behind the goal line so I wandered across towards the big screen side where I found a good vantage point beside Tom and his son Tom who had driven up from Newcastlewest. I enjoyed their company. There were lots of Glasgow supporters mainly on the opposite end and the far end of the West Terrace, waving their big blue flags. There was a strong wind blowing but at least it was dry for the first half. Munster won the first 2 penalties, the 2nd one was in the Glasgow half so Ian Keatley stepped up to kick it. His direction was spot on but the kick just fell short.
Glasgow targeted the breakdown, winning a turnover which they got quickly to the wing to DTH van der Merve who took off at pace and only for a tap tackle by Denis Hurley could have gone on to score but that tripped him up and he was forced into touch by Keatley. However the lineout was not straight and Glasgow won possession back. From that scrum they got the ball into the hands of their lock Nakarawa who powered through, offloading for Rob Harley to score under the posts.
Munster responded well, Felix Jones claimed a bouncing ball to get them back into Glasgow territory. A knock on allowed Glasgow clear the lines and when they broke from deep Jones was there again to block down the kick ahead. However Glasgow were very dangerous in attack, Nakarawa’s pass just went out of play on one wing before a kick ahead on the other wing just failed to be touched down by DTH as Keith Earls put him under pressure. Another block down, this time by Stander set up a great attacking opportunity when Jones went through a gap and put Keith Earls into space but he chose to come infield and while he got the pass away to Zebo with Jones in support it was the Glasgow’s DTH who secured the ball and it remained 0-7 after twenty minutes.
Munster did get their first score after a scrum penalty when they marched Glasgow back over the 22m line just 3 minutes later.
However that was to be as close as they got. A sweet offload after another strong carry by Nakarawa to DTH van der Merve set him off down the wing. Keatley and Jones could not push him into touch and he was even able to make it an easier conversion to put Glasgow 14-3 ahead in the 26th minute. Munster went on the attack only to knock on and Glasgow took advantage. Only minutes later they had a third try when Stuart Hogg accelerated through a gap and offloaded to his scrumhalf who scored again behind the posts. 3-21 looked grim but Munster rallied before half-time.
Phase after phase they battered the Glasgow line – 27 phases in total – before Andrew Smith burst through. Nigel Owens went to the TMO and checked the grounding but also a potential knock on in the build up before awarding the try. Ian Keatley converted it and 10-21 gave us hope.
The half time entertainment consisted of a representative supporter from each team in a place-kicking competition. Munster prevailed and Oscar played a blinder!
Some loose kicking by Glasgow at the start of the second half gave Munster an ideal start. A scrum from a ball kicked out on the full earned a penalty which was kicked to touch. Lineout ball secured by Paul, maul brought down – penalty advantage and another lineout. Another maul, looking for a gap, then Paul broke through but was just held up. Still a 5m scrum was a good position to be in. A reset, then a penalty from the scrum and the decision was made to take the three points. There were still 32 minutes left..
Despite a great steal by O’Connell of a lineout intended for Gray, Finn Russell made the next break of note, powering through a gap between the 2 props but Zebo and Jones got back to tidy up. Just minutes later Zebo had out hearts racing as he hacked through a loose ball and chased it through to put Seymour under pressure. O’Connell arrived to finish the job forcing Seymour into touch. Ryan claimed the line out and set up the maul, only for it to be penalised as the chants “We are Warriors” rang out.
Back in the Munster half Ryan claimed another lineout but possession was again kicked away.
Munster made changes, bringing in Hanrahan and O’Mahony for Keatley and Zebo as Glasgow continued to pile on the pressure. It was frenetic at times, relentless pressure, players on both sides putting their bodies on the line as the rain which had arrived during half time got a little heavier and the wind a little stronger.
Twelve phases later, Finn Russell raced between Kilcoyne and Hanrahan to score the 4th try for Glasgow and on conversion bring the score to 13-28 with 20 minutes remaining. Archer and O’Donoghue replaced Botha (on his 100th cap for Munster) and Holland. Another lineout wasn’t straight and things just didn’t seem to be going out way. A few minutes later Cronin and Casey came on.
The Glasgow supporters gave a great welcome to the arrival on pitch of their captain Alastair Kellock and I believe he stole the next Munster lineout throw. I was encouraged to see signs of tiredness in some of the Glasgow team, thinking it might free up space for Munster to attack.
Boos rang out – mainly by the Ulster supporters – when Matawalu replaced van der Merwe on the wing, after his behavior in their semi-final the previous week. Meanwhile Paddy Butler was replaced by Sean Dougall, both on their final appearances before moving to France while Cathal Sheridan made his return to the senior team after an injury disrupted season.
With just 8 minutes left Glasgow won a penalty from a scrum and Duncan Weir who had replaced Russell put them another 3 points ahead. Munster went looking for a consolation score. Andrew Smith made a great break, then the forwards took it on. Nigel Owens called on the TMO to check a shoulder charge on Smith in that attack and awarded a penalty to Munster but they could not convert it into points. Glasgow conceded two penalties in quick succession and even though time was just up Owens warned the player to sort out his disciple or he would go to the bin. Munster could not break through and Glasgow kicked the ball out and began their celebrations.
Thanks to the Ulster supporters for their welcome and a rendition of Stand Up for the Munster Men!
Munster: F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley (captain), S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, E Guinazu, BJ Botha; B Holland, P O’Connell; D Ryan, P Butler, CJ Stander.
Replacements: D Casey, J Cronin, S Archer, S Dougall, J O’Donoghue, C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, R O’Mahony.
Glasgow: S Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Richie Vernon, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe, F Russell, H Pyrgos, G Reid, D Hall, R de Klerk, L Nakarawa, J Gray, R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss (captain).
Replacements F Brown, J Yanuyanutawa, J Welsh, A Kellock, C Fusaro, N Matawalu, D Weir, S Lamont.
The detailed Stats are here but looking at the excerpt below you may be surprised to find that the numbers on the left refer to Munster
Yessir, No sir, Three buses full!
With just a week between the semi-final and final it was difficult for supporters to make arrangements to get to Belfast. There were fears that tickets would be very scarce but as the week went on more and more became available as Ulster supporters mainly sold theirs. The next challenge was accommodation in Belfast, due to the Irish Open Golf being on the same weekend. As a result many supporters planned a day trip.
Following on from the bus MRSC Dublin had run to the league game there a few weeks earlier we planned to run a bus again. On a bank holiday weekend with Slane, Bloom etc. also taking place I was concerned whether buses would be available and then as enquiries came in it became apparent that demand was high and we would need a second bus. By Tuesday morning I had to book a third bus. Based on the emails received a price per person was determined and tickets were put up for sale but then some people bought more tickets than they had “pre-booked” leading to more emails to sort out those who had not gotten their tickets. Five people had bought an extra ticket or two and I had an anxious time reconciling sales to bookings to determine if I had enough seats. Luckily I had been holding 10 seats for Munster Sports Travel and only 4 were booked that way so it was fine. Requests for seats were still coming in up to late Friday night so it was disappointing on Saturday afternoon when some people cancelled but there was nothing I could do at that stage.
That morning, when notified of a cancellation of 1 seat I went through the wait-list to find that one person had given me a wrong number, another was asleep, the third person never got back to me so it went to the 4th person. Overall it was a lot more work that I had anticipated (involving ~500 emails!) Elaine and Kevin were great assistance on the day, Elaine looked after the 38 people boarding at the Coachman’s Inn while Kevin had nearly 100 people to “check in” at Westmoreland St.
There is a ban on alcohol consumption on buses in Northern Ireland and 2 lads showed that the Celtic Tiger may be back when they decided to spend I believe €250 euro on a taxi instead! They did return on the bus, I hope it was worth it lads!
At least 2 of the 3 buses struggled to find the Park and Ride at Pirrie Park, signposts are non-existent so our bus didn’t arrive until after 5. There was a big crowd there and I was pleased to meet Paul and Linda who had driven from Clonmel, (you were looking well on the telly Linda!) Babs over from England and Donncha from work.
After the game I checked in most people before sending the first 2 buses on their way. Kevin and I called those who were unaccounted for, one man had met friends and had a lift back, the other went to voicemail. We waited until nearly ten p.m. and could do no more. I was glad to get a text from him at 10am the next morning. His phone battery had died so he could not get in touch after the game but Mr Chips had looked after him. Thanks also to Ian who redirected me when I missed my turn back to the Park and Ride and who had secured tickets for Tony and Imelda earlier that week!
Our driver missed his turn for the A1 and so we had to travel 8km on to the next exit and 8km back which was unfortunate. Cliona tried to get a singsong going, starting off Stand Up and Fight but people were tired. If we had won maybe it would have been different. I spent the last hour of the journey chatting to Gerry from Offaly as Randall who had kept me company on the way up had fallen asleep. As we reached the toll plaza we overtook a string of buses carrying fans home from the concert at Slane.
So another season comes to a close and it’s time to look back and say farewell to the departing players, not just Paul but also JJ, Paddy, Sean, and possibly Andrew (Smith), Eusebio and others to be confirmed, and thank them for their contribution to the club we love. We hope for a kinder draw in the European Cup next season thanks to our top 2 finish in the league and it’s nice to have finished as the best Irish province also! It won’t be long till next season when Tyler Bleyendall will have the opportunity to show us his skills while the arrival of Francis Saili is also exciting. Our young talents like Jack O’Donoghue and Rory Scannell will develop further while players like Mike Sherry, Cian Bohane and Robin Copeland will be like new signings after their injuries this season. Good luck also to the Munster representatives at the JWC and on the Emerging Ireland tour plus 7s circuit.
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Finally some clips from John of Paul’s reception as he appeared for the warm-up and getting his runners up medal to finish as I started with #ThanksPaulie: