Sunday 24 September 2017

Days like this can define your very life

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

GORDON D'Arcy wanted to go off for a sleep in the bus. If Jonny Sexton lost his watch, he would only barely blow the old and fluffy petals off a dandelion.

Sean O'Brien was as worn as the rug outside the door of a dole office. Leo Cullen, the Leinster commander-in-chief, had the look of a man who lifted the national debt in the gym.

It was in the car park at the back of the Stade on the day Leinster beat Clermont- Auvergne in the semi-final.

Anthony Foley lost 10 pounds when Munster won their first Heineken Cup. For such a fit man, without an ounce of spare flesh on him, he was as slippery and sweaty as a pole dancer in a sauna.

Mick Galwey embraced The Holy of Foleys after the game. "Feckit," he said, "but Foley you're after ruining my good shirt."

That's what it takes. You empty yourself on the pitch. Days like today define your career, your very life. In years to come the vanquished will look back and wonder where it all went wrong.

Tyrone goalkeeper John Devine remarked: "We're made men now," after the O'Neill County beat Armagh to win their first All-Ireland title in 2003.

Today's final is one of those contests that makes or breaks men.

Tom O'Sullivan retired recently. He knows all about effort. Tom won five All-Irelands. There wasn't too much about him on the television, yet his All-Ireland haul is just one short of the entire Dublin backline.

I wrote a little tribute in 'The Kerryman' back when Tom won his first All-Ireland. It went something like "Tom O'Sullivan would keep the tide out in Ballybunion with a three-pronged pike." Tom hadn't lost his pace. He was injury free. He just had enough of the torture of training.

It starts well before the mother gives out when the young lad scuffs the Holy Communion shoes in a kick about before receiving the Host for the first time. In a way it is a kind of sacrifice when you give your kid away to the mentors and trainers. They rear him for a purpose and that is to be the best. To win.

Ulster are new to the glory game. They have a profound sense of Christianity running through the side. They believe in themselves and in God.

There are more gods in Ulster than anywhere else. Small towns can have as many as six or seven churches, each proclaiming to be the true representatives of the Almighty, but Ulster are as one.

Last weekend while Leinster were battling away against Glasgow, the Ulster boys were sunning themselves in Portugal.

Now, while they were hardly chatting up sex-starved, topless women from Helsinki and Bradford or drinking cocktails with sexually suggestive names, they were still having a pretty nice time. Leinster were getting battered by Glasgow kisses.

The Pro12 semi-finals should be held after the Heineken Cup final. It was patently unfair on Leinster.

Ulster are in with a chance. Their first 20 against Munster was a purge, an inquisition. Ruan Pienaar is on fire. He is a profoundly spiritual man. I'm sure much of his skill does come from his faith in God, but, if his prayers are not answered, Ulster will be hammered.

prayers

Leinster say their prayers too. It's that mixture of self-belief, faith and sacrifice that will win today's Heineken Cup final.

I tipped Leinster from the start. There's no getting off now, as the man said when he mistook the space shuttle for the Luas.

I will not begrudge Ulster, if for no other reason than their enormous respect and love for the game of rugby.

When all hell was breaking loose Ulster stayed within the IRFU and ensured an all-Irish team, encompassing players from every kind of religion and politics. Moss Keane summed it up so well: "There's no border in an Irish dressing-room."

I think Leinster will win. I will be cheering them on and Jonathan Sexton in particular. He's a good lad who has the courage and the skill to see this through to the end.

Leinster have had a three-year trek around Europe and Ulster will play at a high tempo in an attempt to wear them out.

Some of the Leinster lads are overdue an NCT.

We hope they are all fit and well, but there's hardly a player in the final who is not carrying some sort of an injury at this time of the season.

It would be safer to be the manager of a broke Greek bank than to be a combatant in those early exchanges.

May they all come home safe from the only all-Ireland final ever played in Twickenham.

Irish Independent

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