Sunday 22 April 2018

Autumn has arrived and it’s time to renew our vows with Munste ra shope springs eternal

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The man in the supermarket cradling the aromatherapy foot spa said: "I always knows when it's autumn when I sees the machines for sucking up leaves up on the shelves."

How perceptive, and I suppose he knows it's Christmas when a man with a red coat and a white beard slides down the chimney shouting "ho ho ho".

Some people have no feel for the seasons or the reasons for the seasons. No comprehension of the nature lore to be gleaned from a fidgety swallow flitting manically as if he was searching for a lost passport.

The surest sign of Act One of wintertime is the first round of the Heineken Cup. The SAD (seasonal affective disorder) you've been feeling from the fading light is forgotten. Happy days are here again. It's rugby time. You pump up the sofa, chain yourself to the remote and make preparations for a five-match weekend.

I suppose the sit-in can cause discord in homes where one of the partners isn't that much into rugby.

It's easy for me. I have it cracked. When a "will you put out the bins?" or an "any chance you might go to the shop for the milk?" request comes, all I have to say is, "will you layve me alone woman. Can't you see I'm workin'?"

We renew our vows to Munster at this time every year. Never mind last weekend's defeat to Leinster.

We weren't up for it. Anyway, it was only the league. The new coach Rob Penney is a bright man. What's the point in emptying yourself out against Leinster when, as they say in racing, you're only passing the stands for the first time.

The Heineken Cup is as near as you can get to a knockout league. We didn't start Paulie against Leinster. Everyone calls him Paulie in Munster, even people who have never met him.

I wonder does his mother call him Paulie?

Sometimes the fans change names without the formality of a deed poll. There's no such person as Jonny Sexton. His family call him Jonathan or John O. And congratulations to himself and Laura on getting engaged. She's lovely by the way and sensible too.

The downside is I've been plagued by 'Hello' magazine to do the centrefold. Maybe Mattie McGrath can get me a gig with 'Playboy'.

Paul has always been the Munster women's pin-up. It means so much to the team that he's back for the game against Racing Metro. Paul hasn't had a game since May. I read he might have back spasms. The pain is excruciating. The nearest a man will ever get to the contractions of childbirth.

Away in France is always tough, even when you're fully fit.

The story from Bernard Jackman, who is now coaching in France, is that Racing have more internal scraps than Roisin Shortall.

Racing will be well up for this. The French franchises would rather beat Munster than any other team. The reason is we were the first Irish province to stand up to them in France. Men from Young Munster and Shannon have no fear and so when the French started their thuggery, our boys showed them the difference between bullying and bravery.

We need to rediscover our divil within. I know all about the Penney Revolution and the off-loading game. The most important continuity of all is succession. Who will take over from David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, John Hayes and Denis Leamy?

Munster have been ripped apart by injuries too, but sometimes one man's misfortune is another's opportunity.

New Munster have to stand up to the French. The French are bigger and older. Their mentality is if you lose at home, you lose the support of your fans. A Frenchman's home ground is his castle.

I often think Irish rugby has become too sanitised. The only restrictions on rapparee rugby should be: don't get sent off. Let's rip into them and keep the tempo up.

These young lads will be mad for action. I always liked Billy Holland. His dad Jerry and myself soldiered together in UCC. Many a night we discussed the meaning of life in The Star with Triple Crown winner Mossy Finn, who even at 18 knew the secret of the cosmos was a good sing-song. Young Holland comes from good stock.

Denis Hurley's dad, Jerry, or 'Stumpy' as we called him, was there too. He won a Munster Cup medal for the college and was as tough as bog dale.

I was such a permanent fixture on the UCC football team bench that I became what the art critics call "an installation". After yet another match sitting down, I offloaded on Jerry. He was a believer in affirmative action. At closing time, Jerry made me throw my tracksuit into the River Lee.

I gave a week in bed with the pneumonia after our next game.

Good luck then to the new boys from the bench. Ronan escaped the sideline this week. He is well past the crossroads and is close to the end of an incredible journey. Munster must protect him like the Americans mind their quarterback.

Munster time has become the fabric and timeline of our lives as any of the four seasons. Here's hoping the new and old boys can keep it going for another year.

Irish Independent

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