Sunday 19 May 2019

Billy Keane: We are family in Limerick's Galilee as Munster stage a miracle

'Ian Keatley’s rehabilitation is complete. I said a few prayers to Axel every time that Ian stepped up to convert a kick. He was 100pc accurate.' Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
'Ian Keatley’s rehabilitation is complete. I said a few prayers to Axel every time that Ian stepped up to convert a kick. He was 100pc accurate.' Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The resurrection came a day early to Thomond Park. Dead and gone became fresh and fair with only three minutes to go. The Shannon is the Jordan and Lough Derg is The Sea of Galilee. From now on Lent will be 39 days long, and the children will tear in to the chocolate eggs on Easter Saturday morning.

I have been here to see all the Munster miracles, going back even as far as the All Blacks 40 years ago this year. This win over Toulon was as good as any.

Easter is also the start of the circus season. Duffy's, Fossett's and Gerbola will offer Andrew Conway terms as a slack wire walker, trapeze catcher, contortionist and illusionist, and if the circus pony ever goes lame our hero will gladly gallop through the fiery hoop without suffering so much as stubble singe.

There are moments in sport we never forget, like Le Drop, and there are moments in sport when your team does get that last score.

All 26,000 of us jumped for joy at the same time. It was like being in the apex of a dervish dance. I will never forget and give thanks for being there.

For a second it seemed as if Conway was the like the greedy bank robber who went back in to the vault for just one more bag of cash. He cut inside, just to be sure he was under the posts. Conway made it and now he owns his very own Thomond miracle.

There were loaves and fishes here too as smaller men were made bigger.

If Munster's centre paring of Sam Arnold and Rory Scannell were to share a weighing scale, their combined weight would come to 191kg. The multi-capped superstars Mathieu Bastareaud and Ma'a Nonu weigh 226kg.

That's a difference of five-and-a-half stone in old money.

I was never worried. Munster have a long tradition of bravery and slingshots.

Seamus Dennison from Abbeyfeale wasn't the biggest back in 1978 when we beat the All Blacks, but he set the tone for that miracle match when he cut down the larger Stu Wilson with a thumping tackle that had Limerick City Council calling in the engineers to check the old stand for aftershock structural damage.

If Easter Saturday's encounter was a boxing match, the fight would have been stopped before the fighters even threw a leg over the ropes.

Toulon were huge and played very well in what was a superb game of rugby.

Peter O'Mahony, Billy Holland and Jean Kleyn read the throwers. Our two international front rows always held their own.

Ian Keatley's rehabilitation is complete. I said a few prayers to Axel every time that Ian stepped up to convert a kick. He was 100pc accurate.

Johann van Graan went down on one knee, away from his players, to say his gratitude prayer.

Johann is an emotional man. He got us from the start. It's all about heart.

Simon Zebo covered his eyes and cried when he left the pitch. I wonder if a farewell song sang in his head...

"No matter where I wander, or no matter where I roam, I will never play in another place like my old Thomond home."

The crowd love him here and as one they chanted his name when they bade Simon that sad goodbye. Until we meet again.

The fans were present throughout. And not a mind wandered.

There were no awkward silences and it only took the supporters a few seconds to recover from Chris Ashton's try. The Fields and Stand Up and Fight were reprised time and again. The unconditional love is back.

There were funny times too, and family times. The young lad was telling me about the chastised man down on the South Terrace who forgot himself for a minute. I'd say the poor man thought he was in front of the TV at home.

The soon-to-be-chided gentleman was complaining about the ref, out loud, when all about were silent.

Francois Trinh-Duc was lining up a penalty. The chattering man was chided. "Will you respect the kicker?" admonished his beloved, stiffly.

The laughter rippled like a streak of raspberry through a block of vanilla ice cream.

I left The Ardhu Bar early. Not an easy thing to do.

Munster arrived exactly 90 minutes before kick off. Billy Holland sat in the back of the bus. His face pre-battle was grim.

Not a word was spoken on the bus. I couldn't see the team alighting, there were that many fans standing in front of me. More than a thousand were there.

Behind me I heard a perfect Stand Up and Fight sung in a little girl's voice. Sophie O'Connell from Aglish is in First Class and her singing was first class.

Sophie saw everything. She was up on her tall dad's broad shoulders. The lovely moment brought back memories of a small boy up on his dad's shoulders at a Munster final, a long time ago, when terraces were grassy slopes and I was an even smaller boy than I am now.

Sophie's big brother Aaron was cheering on with all of his might, and mammy was dressed in red.

Munster are family. And if family stick together they cannot be beaten.

Young Sophie, you too will remember this day on daddy's shoulders.

And Sophie, let me tell you this. I knew for sure we would win, when I heard you sing.

Irish Independent

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