Club still the king - despite 35-0 drubbing
LAST weekend presented an opportunity to get back to club roots; unfortunately the timing could not have been worse.
The plan was to cover Munster's Magners League match in Musgrave Park and then repair to the Dolphin clubhouse for some old school kicks, hopefully celebrating their earlier AIL win over Young Munster in Limerick. The plan didn't come together.
Young Munster won 35-0 and, when we slipped up to the upstairs bar to swim with the fishes, the mood was grim. After Munster games, a sectioned-off area is used to feed the teams and cater for the Munster Supporters Club members.
The sight of middle-aged men, poured into the latest Munster jersey, gazing at their heroes with wild-eyed, knee-trembling adoration usually provides its degree of mirth. Not this time. The result from Tom Clifford Park made sure of that -- 35-0? It was scarcely credible.
Even in the mid-1990s when Young Munster had John 'Paco' Fitzgerald, the Clohessy brothers, Declan Edwards, Aidan O'Halloran and the rest, Dolphin always gave them a game.
They should have beaten them in the Munster Senior League final at Thomond Park in 1995 and would have if the Dolphin No 8, who shall remain nameless (unless his name was Eddie Walsh) knocked on going over under the posts.
That was the game where one of the Dolphin forwards, after managing to pilfer a couple of line-out balls in succession, was told by one of the 'Cookie Monsters': "Young fella, you do that again, and you won't be walking off this pitch." He didn't do it again.
Young Munster are one of Ireland's great clubs, producing legendary players like Tom Clifford, the Clohessys, Ger Earls and his son, Keith, but still, 35-0?
When you take a beating like that you keep the head down.
If you are celebrating, it's into Mary in the Castle bar for a bit of Snuff Daddy action and a few songs. If you lose, you slide into Rob in Callanan's on George's Quay where you cry into large bottles off Guinness off the shelf.
So, there we were drowning our sorrows when we bumped into another group on a similar below-the-parapet mission.
St Mary's had lost to Cork Constitution that day in Temple Hill (which is almost as tough a venue to visit as Young Munster's 'Killing Fields') and a group of Mary's legends were hiding out in Callanan's poring over the entrails of defeat.
Steve Jameson, their stalwart second-row enforcer, who would have undoubtedly played for Ireland in a different era; Declan Fanning, the cultured No 8 and another man desperately unlucky not to be capped; Noel McCarthy, one of the finest flankers to have graced the Irish club game and a former Connacht captain, and Steven Hennessy, the graceful full-back who went on to coach the club.
Nothing against the wave of new support that has flooded the game in the last 10 years, providing funds that have helped to sustain success in the professional era, but it was reaffirming to get a reminder of a time when the club was king.
Munster second-row Donncha O'Callaghan alluded to it this week as he summed up the challenge facing Munster in their must-win clash in Toulon on Sunday.
"It's cup rugby, love it, reared on it ... bring it on," said the Highfield and Con second-row. "Even in U-8 blitzes up in Highfield, it was 'you lose your match and you're gone.' No back doors or anything like that, you lose and it's over."
That now-or-never attitude has seen Munster dominate the AIL and excel in Europe and bringing that approach on Sunday will ensure that Toulon have to fight for everything they get.
There are swathes of newly discovered rugby followers, in the media and the stands, who roll their eyes when the clubs are brought up.
However, at a time when mentioning banks is akin to bringing up the Civil War, due credit should be given to Ulster Bank for sponsoring the club game in Ireland for the next three years -- they are providing for the next generation of professional stars.
The clubs remain the lifeblood of the game in this country and being reminded of such is enough to make warm, fizzy Guinness taste sweet. But still ... 35-0?