Thursday 23 November 2017

Billy Keane: Anthony Foley's legacy making a difference as fans rediscover the true Munster way

Anthony Foley’s legacy at Munster is abundant. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Anthony Foley’s legacy at Munster is abundant. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There is optimism out and about in Munster these days. The team that Axel built so carefully is ready now. The young lads know what it is to be Munster and the team is playing with the do-or-die attitude we need to beat the very best.

When John Fitzgerald Kennedy died, his successor Lyndon Johnson carried on the work and implemented his policies. It took the shock of JFK's death to bring home his message.

You could say the same about the passing of Axel. Rassie Erasmus has done a fine job by simply leaving well alone - a rare gift in any new man at the helm of any organisation. The temptation is to tinker or even drastically reshape the organisation.

Rassie seems to understand the old Munster premise that the forwards are the siege engine. Munster travel up the middle before they go out wide, thereby drawing in and wearing out the opposition.

That's pretty much the traditional Leicester way too. Their game is based on winning the forward battle. Today will be the first big test of this young Munster team. By tea time we will know where we stand.

Last year Leicester became the first team to beat us twice in Thomond. We didn't even manage a bonus point. A week earlier in Leicester, Munster played well, but left pointless. Munster's Champions Cup campaign was all over by Christmas, for the first time ever.

There was no doubting Munster's courage last year but for them to beat the big teams like Leicester, the intensity needs to border on the fanatical. Munster do not lack skill either, and confidence seems to be at a high.

Then there is the move engineered by Foley and Munster CEO Garret Fitzgerald, who is a Cork man. The team all train together in the same place every day at UL, where the facilities are on a par with anywhere in the world.

This unification has made a massive difference. The fitness levels have improved, and there's not as much driving over and back from Limerick to Cork.

It's not only the players who have been brought to life. The old Thomond was famous for that feral fervour but a stadium of 12,000 is easier to stoke than a ground of more than twice that size. The ideal situation is for the fans to practise the rugby form of unrestrained, unrestricted, unquestioning love - on match days anyway.

I suppose it is true to say that there was a certain amount of bitchin' going on in the old days after games in pubs but it was kept private, or private within the group.

The story, though, is to leave all that behind when you enter the gates of Thomond Park and just cheer, no matter what. Cheer even louder if the team is going badly.

It's a value system all supporters need to adopt in an ideal world.

I was in Tralee RFC on Sunday last for the Christmas Dinner. The home side were playing Ballincollig from Cork and Ballincollig won. The value system was there for all to see.

Tralee brought Ultan Dillane through. Jay Galvin was one of Ultan's mentors and he was one of many who gave the support needed to help players who did not go to the rugby-playing schools of Cork and Limerick.

On this day week the Con Houlihan Memorial Concert takes place in Castleisland with the local rugby club very much involved. John Sheahan will have you waltzing in The Latin Quarter, and Danny O'Mahony would get a fleadh going in a funeral home.

These are the events that make up the Munster calender. Munster is nourished by people who serve from childhood to alickadoo. The heart is there for all to see in places like my own home town of Listowel.

There at small games, you see just how teams should be supported on pitch-side. There is no negativity. I do think that there were life lessons learned from the way Foley and his team were criticised. The critical fans seem to be more forgiving now. More in tune. More aware of the work that goes on in private.

We must never ever go back to the days when a player was booed by his own.

So it is then we seem to have found a new fans' charter. Foley's legacy is abundant. Munster have rediscovered their values, but alas it was too late for 'Axel The Great'.

I'll be driving by Carmody's pub in the village of Tarbert on the way to the game today. The proprietor Michael Carmody passed away last August and a lovely man he was too. Michael won the Greyhound Derby with Joyful Tidings in 1994 and when you saw the Joyful prefix, you knew there was fast dog on the card.

This car-load of Americans stopped off in Carmody's and asked if there was Wi-Fi in the pub. "Ah," says Michael, "I'm sorry but I sold the last one only a quarter of an hour ago."

To be fair, most of the contributors mean well. I think Munster on and off the field are true now to our tradition of oneness and all-in.

We will need all that unity today. There will be setbacks. The greatest ever Munster team found it hard to beat Leicester.

There's something special going. The unseen but tangible forces of the universe are with Munster.

And that should be just barely enough at a sold-out Thomond Park, manned, womanned and childed by those who never sold out.

Irish Independent

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