Thursday 22 February 2018

Billy Keane: Boo-boys should be banned for betraying our chivalrous heritage

Jonathan Sexton has been blamed for sending some passes astray but the errors
weren’t his fault – it was more of case of the receivers going missing. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton has been blamed for sending some passes astray but the errors weren’t his fault – it was more of case of the receivers going missing. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Our dad risked excommunication from the GAA when he brought us to Munster matches in Thomond Park.

You met the finest kind there. Raw for sure, and honest too, but never malicious and never nasty. There was game talk after in Charlie St George's, and players were rated but never slated.

There was a nobility about Munster back then and we never turned on our own. It was part of our rearing and the lessons learned there in the old Thomond were the perfect sporting education for kids.

The mistreatment of Ian Keatley by a large section of Munster fans on Saturday night last saddened and angered me. The abusers spat on the jersey.

I was wondering when the internet sheep-worriers would move out in to the wide world. Some of the most vicious commentary I have seen on the net came from so-called Munster fans and they targeted Munster players and Munster coaching staff.

One senior professional of longstanding told me of a young Munster player who was driven to the edge of reason by the constant knocking.

Indeed I would be all for checking the CCTV and banning the abusers from Thomond. If they abused fellow workers, well then they would be fired. There should be a name and shame.

So here's our plan. We will go through the CCTV and pick out 15 of the loudest sheep-worriers. They will be invited to meet up with an interview board and their lives will be assessed in some detail. Perhaps some of you might volunteer for the interview.

Ian Keatley is no poor oul cratur who needs sticking up for. He is much respected in Munster and our coach Anthony Foley has great time for him.

We have been told time and again that Ian Madigan is on his way to Munster. He is not. Madigan is not coming to Munster.

Ian Keatley is still our number one. We hope and pray the bullies haven't broken him.

Madigan is a fine player but Keatley is just as good if he's given good ball and proper support from his team-mates.

Ian was beaten for a try against Leicester in Thomond but there was no way he should have been left isolated on a one-on-one against a big man.

Ian has rescued Munster on several occasions this season with last-minute kicks. Munster would be in bad way in the league but for those winning scores.

And he outkicked Jonny Wilkinson in Marseilles when Munster took on the might of Toulon in the Heineken Cup semi- final. That was the biggest game of Ian's career and he played very well away from home on a beaten team.

Jonathan Sexton too has come in for some criticism. He wasn't at his best against Toulon but it's not easy when you have to tackle everything that moves for at least 20 minutes.

Leinster suffered two yellow cards. Devin Toner's card was a travesty. Nigel Owens had an awful game and Leinster couldn't have won.

Toulon get the nuanced calls from nearly all the European refs. Their owner is constantly cribbing about referees and somehow all that whining seems to have seeped in to the subconscious unbeknownst to the officials.

Sexton has been blamed for sending some passes astray but the errors weren't his fault - it was more of case of the receivers going missing than inaccuracy on Sexton's part. he kicked two very difficult penalties early on and he's so close to hitting top form.

The fact is both Munster and Leinster have had disrupted pre-seasons. There was no time for players to get used to each other or to think out new plays. It was all about the World Cup.

Leinster and Toulon have both won three European championships, and Leinster would like nothing better than to disrupt the Toulon march to glory. Expect Leinster to go close today if they get fair play, and I fancy Munster to beat Leicester in Welford Road.

Already I can hear the laughter from the odds-makers and the sheep-worriers.

For one man and his dog read one man and his team. The word from our boys is that they are seething over the treatment of Ian Keatley. They stuck together this week and The Holy of Foleys backed his man. Foley was never short of courage and he told the sheep-worriers exactly what he thought of them.

If Munster pull off a shock they will still be in with a chance of coming out of the group.

It's all about hurt. All about doing it for Ian and yourselves too. All about doing it for the decent fans who will back you to the hilt.

It was just outside the ground in Cardiff in 2008. The boozed-up man wearing a Munster jersey used the c-word to the girl selling the programmes.


I thought he would be killed there and then by three Munster men who were appalled at his language. They told him to take off the jersey.

The abuser ran off and he kept on running until he came back to abuse Ian Keatley last Saturday.

That evening in The Millennium, the huge Munster flag bathed us in the red of the setting sun, but this was Munster rising.

I was there with the young lad. He was a small boy then. There was complete silence for a while in the half-light. Then when the flag passed over the crowd cheered as one.

I brought him for the fun of it for sure but it was more for him to see and feel the glory of the supporters, their chivalry and their nobility. And to witness the courage and skill of our players.

We sang our hearts out after the game in the bar of the Marriot Hotel. All the Munster county anthems were sung and men ducked planes deliberately for fear of missing out on the celebrations.

There was unity there and tradition. We cannot let the sheep-worriers steal our children's sporting heritage.

Welford Road is a tight pitch and short enough too. The ground is purpose-built for rugby, with the fans so close to the pitch they can almost touch the wingers.

Munster won there before on the day when the youngsters O'Connell and O'Callaghan outplayed Ben Kay and Martin Johnson. Munster were big outsiders that day too.

To Munster I would say there are thousands of us who were appalled by the behaviour of the sheep-worriers. We are with you 100pc.

Now is your chance to shut them up and restore the old order. The age of chivalry never ends and glory awaits the Knights of the red jersey.

Irish Independent

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