Friday 22 September 2017

Fans turn air blue ahead of big game

Michael Keenan and his father John at the Millennium Stadium
Michael Keenan and his father John at the Millennium Stadium

Fiach Kelly in Cardiff

THERE were Munster refugees, there were refugees fleeing their Norwegian wives, and there was even a refugee town set up a few miles down the road for Leinster fans who couldn't find lodgings in Cardiff.

It all added up to a strange atmosphere in the Welsh capital yesterday ahead of Leinster's Heineken Cup final clash against Northampton in the Millennium Stadium this evening. It's expected that 15,000 supporters will make the trip across the Irish Sea to Cardiff, with Leinster hoping the same number again will make their way from across Britain and elsewhere.

But tickets were still on sale near the ground last night for around €80, and it remains to be seen if the 74,500-seater stadium hosts a sell-out.

Leinster's 2009 triumph in Edinburgh was a sell-out, and life-long supporter Brian Godfrey from Rathmines, in Dublin, said a lot of people were put off by the cost and the lack of accommodation in Cardiff.

There were very few signs of life from blues supporters in the city centre until late yesterday evening, with many fans forced to stay in Bristol, 40 miles away. Many fans also bought tickets to last night's Amlin Cup final, thinking Munster would make it to the decider of European rugby's second tier competition, which instead saw Harlequins take on Stade Francais.

"Ah, these things go in cycles, we had a great 13 years," said Munster fan Elaine Blackshields, who was there with her boyfriend, Alan Massey, a Leinster fan from Kilkenny.

Twelve-year-old Michael Keenan from Malahide, Co Dublin, was accompanied by his dad John. Michael was decked out in his patterned pink Stade jersey yesterday, and was looking forward to seeing his hero, Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien.

And then there was David O'Brien, from Ardgroom on the Beara Peninsula, who came to Cardiff with his gang of "sexual refugees" from Norway.

Charitable

Munster fan David (30) and a group of friends came over to Cardiff on his stag weekend in 2008 to see his province win their second Heineken Cup and vowed they would repeat the trip every year.

But his wife, Tove Leren, is Norwegian and he now lives in Trondheim, where he works as a schoolteacher.

So this year, along with one Scottish and two English friends, also married to Norwegians, they made the trip to Cardiff.

"We're all sexual refugees, that's what they call us in Norway," he said. "We're there because of our wives."

And the Corkman is even being charitable enough to support Leinster today. But will that extend to next week, when Munster and Leinster clash in Thomond Park in the Magners' League final?

"No, not next week," he said. "Next week, they can kiss me a*se."

Clive Dixon (62) and his wife Susan travelled down from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. They thought their team, the Leicester Tigers, would make it to the final so they bought tickets.

But the Tigers were beaten by Leinster in the quarter finals, and Clive is now throwing his support behind Northampton.

"Leinster would have to be favourites, although with Brian O'Driscoll out Northampton could have a chance," said Clive, before being told BOD was actually lining out.

"He is? Oh bugger."

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