Time has come for Munster fans to renew faith
MUNSTER host Northampton Saints today at Angelus time. For whom the bell tolls. Last year Munster failed to make it to the play-offs for the first time in years.
It was as if the buds inverted and the trees stayed naked, such was the constant of Heineken Cup rugby in the seasonal patterns of our lives.
A wise, but unconsidered philosopher (me) said once or even twice 'nothing stays the same, except change.'
Core values and beliefs must underpin our unconditional support for Munster. Now more than ever. And we have a story for you that will explain all.
Last Sunday, Listowel Emmets played Castlegregory away in a relegation battle. A very young team with a few vets to lead the way just about kept us up. Castle' was where we went on holidays as kids. We walked the beach before the game and memories came back in frames. My mother told me that as a small boy I used to tell her there were pictures on my pillow. She took it to be dreams, but they were wide awake.
I can see me playing on the beach at Castle' and picking periwinkles as clearly now as if it was projected on a screen in front of me.
Castle' is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The pitch is nearly on the water. Sunday was a day borrowed from the south of Spain. The mountains were near enough to touch and for a few of hours, winter was sent packing.
If there is a skill I hold over all others, it's removing periwinkles from their shells with maximum meat yield at incredible speed.
My cousin Fergus Keane maintained I could pick the curled-up snail from his mobile home with the handle of a yard brush. Alas periwinkle extraction never featured on one of those sports-fishing programmes on Sky and it's far too late now for inclusion in next summer's London Olympics.
The winkles are an endangered species from over-picking and when I complained to an old friend before the game, he told me his troubles. And here's that story.
"My wife was giving out the other day," he said. I was somewhat taken aback. Shocked even. I didn't know wives gave out. "How come," said my pal's spouse to my pal. "You never tell me that you love me?"
His answer was: "I told you I loved you 25 years ago and if I ever change my mind I'll let you know." I suspect his wife was no longer mad with him, but mad about him.
Such is life and love. But my friend has had the same wife for a quarter of a century. The personnel change in team sports, and young players need constant support and reassurance.
Lately I have noticed that fans cheer only after an event that in some way changes the game, like say a try or a big hit.
Now that we are belatedly striving to become a meritocracy, there's a national consensus that a reward must be earned. Sport is different. It's not like giving a politician a big pension or a lump of sugar to a circus pony.
Bitch all you want in the Ardhu after the game, but not in Thomond during it. Munster fans are still the best at getting behind their team, but we are not as good as we used to be.
Anthony 'The Holy of Foleys' knows more than anyone what makes the fans tick-tock and then explode. Foley is the new forwards coach and we saw signs of his approach against Leinster. There were a few rolling mauls, a penalty try and vital stolen line-outs near the end.
I would also back Tony McGahan. He is team-building. Young players are being brought through and will prosper, but experience cannot be coached and we tend to learn best from our mistakes.
Northampton are strong where Munster are strong. It will be a savage battle up front. This will be one of those tight ones and maybe Ronan O'Gara will kick the winner with a few minutes to go.
Leinster, meanwhile, visit Montpellier without Brian O'Driscoll. We wish him well and hope he'll be back as good as new.
There will be one family enjoying today's games on TV for a change as they bow out of the public eye for the first time in 14 years. Now is the hour to say goodbye to Mary and Martin McAleese.
If ever a President deserved a red carpet it was Mary. You kind of felt that she and Martin would be there at the big games anyway, even if it wasn't a State duty.
At the beginning, the First Family were probably more into the GAA, but over the years the McAleeses embraced all sports. They built bridges in a hurry and, more importantly, hurried over those bridges to the other side.
It was, indeed, the era of the Pontoon Presidency.