Friday 17 November 2017

Munster's old tale of two cities a long way from today's class acts

Seal Diffley

Tony McGahan marked his departure as Munster coach by putting a flea in the ear of local rugby; posing by inference the perennial century-long question as to whether Limerick or Cork is Munster's homestead.

This two-city structure is surely unique in top-class rugby, certainly in Ireland. Leinster are centred in Dublin, Ulster in Belfast and Connacht in Galway, but Munster face the dilemma of wondering whether to train or play in either city.

Mind you, since the rebuilding of Thomond Park in Limerick, the matter of where to play seems to have become a lesser problem. But the dithering as to where the squad does its day-to-day training is -- as McGahan said in his valedictory address -- not ideal for the game in the province.

The Cork versus Limerick situation was quite a substantial difficulty in the old amateur days when animosity was, shall we say, fairly lavish.

I have vivid memories of getting the Limerick aspect of the family frostiness from Richard Harris when he was here for the making of the film 'The Field'.

He was with the rest of the crew in the Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara and on a wet and windy day, I made contact with the man who had won a Munster Cup medal with Garryowen, but really preferred the hard nuts of Young Munster.

As I was informed volubly, he had little time for the "stuck-up Cork snobs and social climbers who cannot play rugby," and that was the mildest part of his verdicts.

Harris also named names, Cork names, and when I remonstrated about the dangers of libel, he told me pretty forcefully "to publish and be damned," which, of course, we didn't.

Harris was middle-class, but in his attitudes he was the prototype of Limerick's working-class, which was the basis of the game in Limerick.

Few went to university, in contrast to Cork, where the game was upper-class and infused with a fair sprinkling of the Merchant Princes. But all that was in the old amateur club days.

Nowadays in these professional times, class and nether-class is absent and it would seem that all the players in all the provinces, and in Cork and Limerick, enjoy the benefit of third-level degrees and why not? They can well afford it.

Things have changed quite remarkably. Not only do Munster and Leinster enjoy bumper crowds, but the full houses of enthusiasts at Ravenhill is a splendid advance. And rugby in the North is attracting from all sides of the traditional divide.

This Heineken Cup final at Twickenham today is of obvious importance to both -- but much more important for Irish rugby as a whole.

It can demonstrate to the rest of world rugby that the game here is of top vintage and discourage the whining we hear from those who fell beneath our superior swordsmanship in the other five nations.

Irish Independent

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