Thursday 23 November 2017

Heroic oldies make mockery of birth certs

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was a squadron of skinny, jet-lagged swallows gorging on midges over an inlet next to the Shannon Boat Club. A man wore sandals without socks as his partner licked a 99 the size of a traffic cone. Jumpers were tied around waists like dresses with no front. It's sunny Limerick in late spring -- Heineken Cup time.

Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. The boys of the Munster old brigade took their lead from our government and pushed back their retirement age. Beaten-up Northampton must have thought the Munster birth certs were forgeries.

Let's pay tribute to the older boys first. Sail before steam and all that.

Dougie Howlett produced his finest performance for some time. He was given no more than a pot plant of field for that first try. Somehow he wriggled through to score. If you forgot your key, you could send Dougie through the letter box to open the door.

Jerry Flannery is 31, around the same age as Dougie. The local boy never missed a scrap. His bruised face was a reminder of every blow that struck him.

John Hayes is 36. He spared himself for the scrums and it paid off. When he was replaced by the impressive Tony Buckley, the crowd rose as one to thank him not just for the day that was in it, but for his years of service.

Marcus Horan is a year older than Howlett. He led a vital scrum late on when Munster pushed Northampton all the way to Southampton.

Paul O'Connell's absence was a bad blow but yet again Mick O'Driscoll came in to play a big game. He is kept out of the side by two Lions and he would be on the starting 15 of almost every other team in Europe. Mick will be 32 in the autumn.

David Wallace is another 30-something who came good on the big day. He is famed for his running but he can do the tough stuff do. Donncha O'Callaghan is 30-plus and he fought hand-to-hand in the rucks, winning two turnovers. Northampton were never allowed to settle while he was around.

The same can be said of Alan Quinlan who will celebrate his 36th birthday in July. He was my man of the match. Quinny was the butter in the marmalade jar. (We felt fly in the ointment was a bit too clichéd). And there's much more to him than the nuisance factor. He seemed to second-guess the opposition's kickers and was always under the dropping ball. There was one hit he didn't see coming that would have shunted a train but he held on.

His world was turned upside down when a moment of madness ruled him out of the Lions tour. Life is funny. Just when you think there's no coming back, you do just that. Tonight in the Palace Bar in Dublin, he will be announced as the Tipperary Man of the Year.

Ronan O'Gara is 33. His channel was targeted by the Saints. O'Gara is slight of frame in comparison to some of the monsters who knocked him over but he took the hits and ran the game. The breeze picked up after about 12 minutes and favoured Northampton but Munster had the wind for all of that second half. O'Gara kicked deep into the opposition half with a display of deadly accurate punting.

The stats will show he missed a few place-kicks, but his wides were almost all from difficult angles. The stats don't lie but they do not give the full story.


The under-30s club played their part in no small way. Our backs never looked like scoring against Leinster eight days earlier. Enter Keith Earls from just over the back wall. He's like the young lad who ducks into the golf club to hit a few balls at dawn when the stewards are snoring ,or the GAA kids who run on at half-time for a few kicks. He loves the game and it shows.

His midfield partner Jean de Villiers broke the gain-line on every single carry. He should be given the lead in Invictus 2. Paul Warwick could have been mistaken for Earls' twin. His running from deep was exciting and decisive.

Ian Dowling is as good a defender as we have seen. He is as strong as a prop and the ball always comes back on his side, irrespective of how many of the opposition get at him.

Tomas O' Leary is close on the best in the world. Who else could keep Peter Stringer off the team?

We left Thomond full of hope and we took the old river road to the city. The daffodils dancing by the Shannon's banks took time to bloom this year. Queue a metaphor for Munster. The fans' happy dials were as red as their jerseys from the summery sun -- the perfect warm weather rehearsal for the semi against our old foes Biarritz Olympique.

Time so to top up the tan, tap the bank and tip change into biscuit tins and big bottles.

Ageless Munster are heading south for the summer.

Irish Independent

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