Wednesday 24 January 2018

Leinster feel force of class bias

A few years back, I interviewed an Irish international rugby player, a Munsterman. Afterwards we had a couple of cups of coffee and one of those off the record chats where you often learn more than you did during the official conversation.

"Do you know what really annoys me," said this anonymous Irish international, "is fellas who keep coming up to me saying, 'You must hate that Brian O'Driscoll, I'd say he's a right bollocks, I'd say you can't stand him'. And the thing is that I like Dric, he's a good guy. I can't understand why people go on like that."

The memory of that conversation is just one reason why I'm hoping Leinster fulfil their promising start and go on to win the Heineken Cup next year. Because when the anonymous Irish international said he didn't know why people went on like that about Brian O'Driscoll, he was speaking rhetorically. I think he knew as well as I did why people thought it would please a Munster hero to hear one of his international team-mates being disparaged.

Munster's saga in the Heineken Cup over the past decade or so has provided sports fans with probably more consistent pleasure than anything else. It has been a long and wonderful trip. But it has also given rise to a culture of denigration towards Leinster which became tiresome a long time ago.

A minority of Munster fans, most of whom I suspect have rarely darkened the precincts of Thomond Park, find it amusing to bang on about the supposed softness, arrogance and general all-round poshness of their provincial rivals.

What amuses a non-rugby person like myself about this is that those caricaturing Leinster in this fashion are hardly horny-handed proletarians themselves. There's nothing sadder than seeing someone cheering against a team rather than for them and it's a pity to see the same sort of ludramauns, who a few years ago regarded it as amusing to describe themselves as ABUs, take delight in Leinster's Heineken Cup slip-ups. You can even, at times, detect less-than-wholehearted support for Leinster players on the national teams.

The average Munster supporter has more sense and is more bothered with what his own team does than what happens with Leinster. Yet even in the media there's sometimes a kind of odd dichotomy evident where Munster stand for everything moral, good and authentic in sport and Leinster stand for the opposite.

That's why I want Leinster to win the Heineken Cup next year as much as I wanted Munster to win it when they were going for their first.

Because the players from the Eastern province have given us all a lot to cheer about both in their own jersey and that of Ireland over the past few years, not least O'Driscoll (who, anyway, is a Skibbereen man ancestrally). And until they lift the Heineken Cup they will remain the most under-estimated and derided team in the country.

So even though the Munster team and support is almost entirely composed of pig gelders, knife grinders, hod carriers, steeplejacks and men who work in the coal mines of Castletroy, Douglas and Montenotte, let's forget class bias and give Leinster their due.

The province of upper class sybarite Trevor Brennan is no less worthy of respect than that of working class hero Ronan O'Gara.

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