Tuesday 27 September 2016

Billy Keane: Gospel hopes of faithful fulfilled as Munster save the best till last

Published 21/01/2013 | 17:00

We went to the Augustinians in search of a miracle. It was before 11. 30 Mass and the church was already full of people in red scarves and woolly hats. There was a clang of coins in the box. The brave and faithful were lighting candles for Munster.

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The folk group was warming up. On the big screen in front was holy karaoke.

The words were:

And the trees in the fields

Shall clap their hands.

Surely it was a sign Munster would win. Surely. Munster were up against Racing Metro and they had to score four tries to keep Leinster out of the Heineken Cup.

There was tension and expectation in this most serene of retreats.

The outside world could not be shut out from the cloister.

Across the street, a homeless man clasped a cup of coffee for warmth as he sat on the freezing pavement. Three fit women in lycra were running to Kilnaskully. Lads hung around the corner in hopes of an early pub opener.

It's early.

Kick off is at 12.45.

Limerick is still rubbing its eyes.

Soon the city will be wide awake.

The singing of 'Stand Up and Fight' had the whole stadium rocking. Twenty-six thousand and not a sign of a single Parisian. You'd nearly half expect The Hunchback of Notre Dame to sweep down from the West Stand with, ''I'm here lads, I'm here''.

Munster were three down after a few minutes. Then a Frenchman was sent off for downing Sherry.

The referee was Wayne Barnes and fans were giving him some stick. The Munster out-half Ian Keatley clocked him with a kicked ball, but he was fine. The crowd clapped Mr Barnes when he got back up but the slightly biased man from Fethard, who ate a sandwich every minute, said, ''if Barnes was reffing at Waterloo, Napoleon would have won".

Munster were terrible in the early stages. The French were bigger. Even the crowd went quiet. The Munster fans aren't as easy to please, now they have tasted glory. Unconditional love needs nurturing.

''The only miracle in Limerick this week,'' said the man from Fethard, ''was when the local Tesco turned a horse into a heifer.''

Then the cranky little French scrum-half drew a kick near Conor Murray. He missed. Every young one in Munster seethed. He's their pin-up boy.

In truth the offence was no more than a baby kicking off a blanket in its cot but the boot fired up Munster. The team came alive. Suddenly the young lads remembered who they were and where they were playing.

The first try came from Murray. ''t's on now'', shouted Mary from Nenagh, who also remarked, ''if only I was 30 years younger''.

Then came the second from Simon Zebo. One hundred thousand Leinster fans brought the dog out for a walk and banged the door as they left.

The third try came minutes after and when the revved up fans landed from the synchronised jump-up, there was a mobile home washed away in Lahinch from the aftershock. The magnificent Mick Sherry, by now well recovered, scored and the baffled French were stripped as bare as last month's herring-bone Christmas tree.

Three down, one to go.


The fans drank their tea and made their pee. Chatting and smiling, with steam rising from hot whiskeys and ports in the thronged cabins under the sail boat stands. The atmosphere was convivial and confident.

It didn't take long for the fourth try, a beauty from Zebo. He kissed the jersey. This young man's dad is from Martinique and his mother is a Cork woman. Their boy is the new Sean Og O Hailpin – we'll still keep the old one though – and when the fans chanted 'Zebo' his family must have felt oh so proud of their fine son from New Ireland.

Young Tommy O'Donnell was everywhere. He must be paid by the mile. This lad is special. He would be my first pick on the Irish team. But they were all great. Keatley, under so much pressure to emulate Ronan O'Gara, could squeeze through the cash gap in an ATM machine wearing a bawneen sweater with them big brown buttons.

Some few of us felt sorry for Leinster, who, like the champions, they fought until the end. They would still be in the Heineken Cup with Munster and Ulster but for a glut of terrible injuries.

Yes, it was another miracle here in Thomond Park. The Pope has just confirmed as much on Twitter.

The signs were there for all to see in the Augustinian Church, if you knew where to look.

The Gospel for the day was the wedding feast of Cana. The scene of Our Lord's first miracle when water was turned into wine.

Here's the quote from John's Gospel:

''People generally serve the best wine first and keep the cheaper sort until the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.''

I couldn't have written it better myself.

Irish Independent

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