Friday 18 January 2019

Billy Keane: Departing Munster heroes write their own Hollywood farewell

Francis Saili, left, and Donnacha Ryan of Munster after the Guinness PRO12 semi-final match between Munster and Ospreys at Thomond Park on Saturday
Francis Saili, left, and Donnacha Ryan of Munster after the Guinness PRO12 semi-final match between Munster and Ospreys at Thomond Park on Saturday
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Munster team tried their best to hoist Donnacha Ryan up on their shoulders for a farewell lap around the ground.

It was his last game in Thomond. The 18,000 fans stayed on in the stadium to say goodbye. Ryan refused the rickshaw. There is no such thing as porters in Munster. Every man carries his own load. He will be missed.

Francis Saili is on his way too. Goodbyes are always sad when you know goodbye isn't an au revoir. Saili was man of the match.

We stopped outside Loghill for a selfie on the way home. The sun was settling down for the night over the Shannon in West Clare, where every man and every woman plays in tune to the old cadences of fun and games. The sky was a water colour of washed red. If an artist painted the picture, you would say the canvass was too perfect, a cliché for a quick sale. Red sky at night, Munster's delight.

I was telling the lads about driving home from matches with my Dad. His 15th anniversary is coming up on the 30th of this month. And do I miss him. My father took longer to get home than Homer's Odyssey.

I revved up coming in to Loghill. By then there was a lipstick of orange around my mouth. Says the oul fella, "we can't pass The Bird's". The Bird O' Shaughnessy's is closed now. The Bird kept the door open, well in to his late 80s. That was a great one in the old days by the old publicans who loved the talk.

"I'll be taken out of here in a box." Little did they know a way of life would be killed off by Chateau Tuesday, crudités and "sure now that we've opened the bottle, we might as well finish it".

My Dad stated his case, "The Bird will never forgive us if we don't call in."

It was as if The Bird was sitting outside the pub on the lookout to see if my father was passing by. We did stop and this strong woman wearing wellingtons commanded my father out to dance a polka. He said "it was rougher than playing against Duagh in the North Kerry League."

The day out is nearly gone now. There's no stopping off any more but we did get the gist of a good story in the toilet from Thomond leaks. The man in front of me had a bladder fuller than the Poulaphouca dam in the rainy season so I had the time to listen.

This lad roared during a Bleyendaal penalty and at the twitchy Biggar missed kick. The screecher was spoken to by the stewards. He was warned again and then evicted from the ground. Proper order.

This Munster team also stayed loyal to the old values of hard work and backing each other up. On Saturday Munster were back to full strength. Munster played on with injured players against Saracens. Our three Lions were either missing or playing hurt. Jonathan Sexton stayed on when he picked up a dead leg in Leinster's hammering against the Scarlets. It was a mistake. He was in a dilemma. If Jonathan goes off he will be accused of minding himself for the Lions.

The 10 is being paid a lot of money and more importantly, for him, he was playing for his club and his friends.

Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander and Bleyendaal were back to full fitness and all three were superb. I was delighted for Bleyendaal who had a bad day against Saracens. It's a sign of a great man who can come back stronger from adversity.

Scarlets are in top form. Any team who can beat Leinster off the field with 14 men must be favourites but I think Munster are ready to win on Saturday.

ice cream

Simon Zebo's try was the best I have ever seen in Thomond Park. Keith Earls ran back so fast it was if his mammy, who lives just over the wall, was telling him there was jelly and ice cream after the dinner. His pick-up and dodge was the makings of the try.

I was checking the video just now but somehow I taped The Real Housewives of Hollywood and from the small bit I watched, they were half cracked. I do know it was a team try though and Zebo finished it off brilliantly. He was badly wronged by the Lions.

Munster mixed classy attack with some hard-hitting. CJ set the standard. When Leinster tackled it was a gentle all fall-down like ring a ring o' rosie. Leinster will be back. They are young and skilful but defence must come first.

When Munster tackled they stole away the Ospreys souls and every Osprey knew he would earn any yards the hard way. The Ospreys were no more than squatters in the rucks. Munster's scrum dominated and our defence never went a gallivanting.

The final will be tight but back as far as last October, by a graveside in Killaloe, I felt Munster would win a big cup this season.

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