Munster in mourning
THE death of Moss Keane after an 18-month battle with cancer cast a long shadow over the Munster camp yesterday, putting things into perspective as they build up to Saturday's' Heineken Cup opener against London Irish in Reading.
The term 'legend' is bandied about far too easily these days, but Keane certainly fit the bill and it was another bona fide Munster legend who paid tribute to his close friend and neighbour yesterday.
Like Keane, Mick Galwey grew up in Currow and both men had the honour of wearing the green and gold jersey for their beloved Kerry.
Further symmetry was established when Galwey inherited Keane's No 4 jersey for Munster and Ireland and though 'Gaillimh' never got to beat the All Blacks or win a Triple Crown as Keane did, his place in Irish rugby is just as entrenched as he captained Munster to two Heineken Cup finals, laying the foundations for the successes that followed.
"He was a colossus of a man for what he has done for the province," said Galwey yesterday. "It is people like Moss Keane that Munster rugby is built on. Were it not for Munster against the All Blacks in 1978, we would not have a history like we have today.
"When you put on the Munster jersey you were aware you were putting on the same jersey which Moss and his likes had worn.
"I have so many great memories of him. We were neighbours and friends. He was my hero growing up. Were it not for Moss Keane, I would probably never had played rugby.
"Growing up in Currow in the 1970s, it was all about Gaelic football. I remember 1978 when Kerry beat the Dubs in Croke Park, the Bomber Liston got three goals. A few weeks later, Moss Keane lined out for Munster against the All Blacks. As a young lad, I didn't know whether I was going to be the Bomber Liston or Moss Keane. Luckily, I chose Moss Keane and it worked out for me.
"There were four rugby internationals from the one village: Moss Keane, Mick and Tom Doyle and myself," added Galwey.
"One of the greatest compliments I can pay him was I never heard anyone say a bad word about him. Sometimes it is a statement which can be exaggerated, but not with Moss -- anyone you ever met only had a good word to say about him. The world is a worse place for his passing."
Galwey expects Munster to mark Keane's death before their match against London Irish this weekend and says the build-up to the clash with the English Premiership side has been going well, despite the disappointment of Munster's 13-9 defeat to Leinster last Saturday night.
One massive boost has been the return of Keith Earls, who took part in his first full-contact session yesterday since damaging his ankle in pre-season, and Galwey is optimistic that he will be good to go on Saturday.
"It's great to have him (Earls) back, particularly considering the other injuries we have," said Galwey. "He got fully involved physically and tomorrow will tell a lot in terms of how he gets on with the session, but we were delighted with how he went this morning. The only concern is match time."
Tomas O'Leary missed training after sustaining a blow to his hand but, with captain Paul O'Connell finally on a clear path towards full recovery before Christmas and Jerry Flannery nearing a return after taking part in training yesterday, things are looking up on the injury front for Munster, although Galwey said bodies and minds are hurting after the Leinster game. "Jerry Flannery trained today, he didn't get involved in everything but he's running around and he's in good shape, and hopefully he'll be available soon," said Galwey.
"Leinster was a very physical game for everybody, a lot of sore bodies, but you have to get back into it and you have to get on with it. That's the way it is. We've known since pre-season that this stage of the season was always going to be very tough."
Those sentiments were echoed by stand-in captain Denis Leamy, who said there is a determination within the squad to use the hurt of a fifth successive loss to Leinster as a launch pad for revival in Reading.
After a tough November campaign in 2008, Ireland famously had a warts-and-all meeting in Enfield to refocus and regather and, if Munster go on to claim this season's Heineken Cup, their meeting in Mitchelstown on Monday might one day acquire the same status.
"We have got to move on," said Leamy. "This time yesterday we were still upset, still dwelling on it. But we had a meeting in Mitchelstown and thrashed out a few things; what we felt went well and what didn't go well, and what we need to do going forward.
"We've got to park it now and put it to one side. It's a massive game this weekend and we've just go to focus on that."