Wednesday 20 November 2019

'It was strange seeing Irish people wildly celebrating an Irish defeat'

Last time Munster felt so aggrieved they lashed out with a vengeance

Michael Galway, Ronan O'Gara, John Langford and Mark McDermott celebrate Munster's victory over Ireland in 1999
Michael Galway, Ronan O'Gara, John Langford and Mark McDermott celebrate Munster's victory over Ireland in 1999
David Kelly

David Kelly

"We were p****d off because (the Ireland World Cup) squad had been announced ahead of schedule... the Musgrave game was an opportunity to vent some frustration."

'Axel A Memoir', by Anthony Foley

WE'VE BEEN here before. And so has Anthony Foley.

In 1999, Ireland announced a World Cup squad comprising 30 players, of which just five were from Munster, three of whom included Harlequins' Keith Wood and the second and third-choice scrum-halves, Tom Tierney and Brian O'Meara.

So when Ireland announced a World Cup warm-up game against Munster at Musgrave Park, it presented a province, one which thrived on historical grievance against perceived bias then as much as now, with the perfect opportunity to deliver a stunning riposte.

All over the pitch, players made their point, from Ronan O'Gara's claim that he had outplayed incumbent Eric Elwood, to the thinly concealed schadenfreude displayed by Munster folk when Denis Hickie's unusually off-form showing for Ireland ultimately cost him his place on the plane.

"There was a feeling of resentment in Munster that we had such a low representation in the World Cup squad," recalled Mick Galwey, another who also missed out before later being rehabilitated.

BELIEVED

"Every one of our players that day believed they were good enough."

Aside from John Langford, all of the Irish-qualified Munster players would subsequently earn caps for Ireland in the aftermath of a World Cup campaign that would end up in embarrassment against Argentina in a quarter-final play-off in Lens.

In an expectant and throbbing Cork, Ireland led 6-0 early on, but Munster took the lead with the first quality segment of rugby in the half, centre Jason Holland sending flanker David Wallace on a 30-metre run which saw him easily outpace the slack defence for the try.

Elwood responded for Ireland but it was clear that, in particular, the Irish back-row of David Corkery (yellow-carded), Kieron Dawson and 1997 Lions hero Eric Miller were struggling to make an impression.

Miller, Dawson and Malcolm O'Kelly were all given the shepherd's crook as Ireland imploded in the second half, much to the glee of the Munster faithful in the 4,000 crowd that produced a spine-tingling atmosphere.

"Put it this way," added Foley. "Declan Kidney didn't need to psych us up for this one and when we won, people went wild. It was a strange scene with all these Irish people celebrating an Ireland defeat like crazy."

In that second half, Ireland could only manage a single try through centre Mike Mullins, converted by Elwood. In response, full-back Dominic Crotty went over for a Munster try while O'Gara kicked the conversion, two penalties and a drop-goal.

"Ireland were having a shocking build-up," recalled O'Gara of that World Cup year, "and this just put the tin hat on it. It was like the old days when touring sides came to Cork or Limerick and were given a bellyful.

"Apart from me, there were a few other Munster lads who had been left out of the squad and we were really fired up. Elwood started for Ireland and I thought I outplayed him again."

Like so many others in that seminal season, O'Gara would soon supplant his immediate rival.

Ireland coach Warren Gatland and manager Donal Lenihan manfully struggled to accommodate the seismic nature of defeat, with Lenihan proclaiming that Ireland had a similar build-up in 1991.

"I honestly don't feel it means a lot," said Lenihan, whose status as a Munster – and Cork – man was particularly awkward. "Munster's World Cup was today, ours will come in four weeks' time."

Within the ruins of this defeat, however, lay the foundations of the ruins of Ireland's subsequent World Cup campaign. The parallels to today, of course, are a world apart. For one thing, the Ireland team of 2014 from which Munster supporters – and players, privately – feel disenfranchised is a completely different animal.

It is a hugely successful team, first and foremost; in 1999, Ireland was still stumbling into the professional era, a fitful journey exposed by the hapless reverse in Lens.

Ironically, Munster's emergence as a real European force during that 1999/2000 season, when they reached their first Heineken Cup final, would dovetail with Ireland's emergence as a valid contender on the European and international stage.

This evening Munster, for all the bar-stool banter and light-hearted quips, will not be playing "Ireland", even if Leinster shoehorned a huge swathe of representatives into Joe Schmidt's championship-winning squad.

Nonetheless, Munster supporters and players will derive the same satisfaction from upsetting the current power base of the Ireland international team.

Nobody knows this more than Foley, Munster's head coach in waiting and a personality who will know intimately how to deftly mine any seam of residual bitterness amongst his players.

As he admits, he won't have to say much. Munster would face Ireland again two seasons after the Musgrave mauling – albeit this time it was billed as a "rest of Ireland" selection in Thomond Park; clearly, the IRFU weren't about to be bitten once more.

Munster, however, would win again in the hastily arranged warm-up game for the Heineken Cup semi-final against Stade Francais, during a campaign severely interrupted by the foot and mouth crisis.

Lions selectors, including head coach Graham Henry and Lenihan, decamped to Limerick on Good Friday for what was also effectively a trial for the tour to Australia later that summer.

Jeremy Staunton scored two tries in the 24-22 win but the undoubted highlight was a 70-metre dash for the line by one Brian O'Driscoll for the team helmed by then Leinster coach Matt Williams.

O'Driscoll was afforded a generous standing ovation from the Limerick faithful. He would become a Lions superstar; to Munster folk, he was another defeated player succumbing to the southern province's unique sense of grievance.

Aside from Munster seeking to get one over their rivals, this particular snapshot may also be repeated at some stage this evening.

Even in this ultra-professional age, Irish rugby thrives as much on its provincial rivalry as it does its national unity.

 

When Munster beat 'Ireland'

MUNSTER 26

IRELAND XV 19

Musgrave Park

September 10, 1999

SCORERS – Munster: D Crotty, A Quinlan try each, R O'Gara 3 pens, 2 cons, dg. Ireland: M Mullins try, E Elwood 4 pens, con.

MUNSTER – D Crotty; C McMahon, J Kelly, J Holland, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes; M Galwey (capt), J Langford; A Quinlan, A Foley, D Wallace. Reps: K O'Riordan for McMahon (27), I Murray for Horan (76), M McDermott for Sheahan (76), P Bracken for Hayes (80).

IRELAND XV – C O'Shea (capt); J Topping, K Maggs, M Mullins, M Mostyn; E Elwood, B O'Meara; R Corrigan, R Nesdale, A McKeen; J Davidson, M O'Kelly; D Corkery, E Miller, K Dawson. Reps: A Ward for Dawson (52), D O'Cuinneagan for Miller (52), J Fitzpatrick for Corrigan (56), K Wood for Nesdale (68), J Bishop for Topping (74).

REF – A Lewis (IRFU).

 

MUNSTER 24

REST OF IRELAND 22

Thomond Park

April 13, 2001

SCORERS – Munster: J Staunton 2 tries, A Foley try, R O'Gara 3 cons, pen. Rest of Ireland: D Humphreys try, con, E Miller, B O'Driscoll, T Howe try each.

MUNSTER – D Crotty; J Kelly, M Mullins, J Holland, A Horgan; R O'Gara, T Tierney; P Clohessy, F Sheahan, J Hayes; M Galwey, J Langford; D O'Callaghan, J Murray, A Foley. Reps: J Staunton for Crotty (15), D O'Cuinneagain for Murray (25), C McMahon for O'Cuinneagain (65), J O'Neill for Mullins (66).

REST OF IRELAND – G Dempsey (Leinster); D Hickie (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), S Horgan (Leinster), T Howe (Ulster); D Humphreys (capt) (Ulster), B O'Meara (Leinster); J Fitzpatrick (Ulster), S Byrne (Leinster), S Best (Ulster); G Longwell (Ulster), M O'Kelly (St Mary's); E Miller (Leinster), A Ward (Ulster), V Costello (Leinster). Reps: J Bell (Ulster) for Dempsey (40), T McWhirter (Ulster) for Costello (55), G Easterby (Llanelli) for O'Meara, P Smyth (Leinster) for Byrne, M Cahill (Connacht) for Fitzpatrick and R Casey (Leinster) for Longwell (all 65).

REF – A Lewis (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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