Sunday 25 February 2018

Billy Keane: The day of Foley forever

Drained Munster will learn from mistakes and carry on the good work of their beloved Axel

Donnacha Ryan is applauded off the pitch by Scarlets players after his last game for Munster on Saturday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Donnacha Ryan is applauded off the pitch by Scarlets players after his last game for Munster on Saturday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I'm thinking right now that the best thing about getting a good hiding is you know where you stand. There are no ifs, buts or maybes. Down we are, but not for long. In Munster the fall is the beginning of the getting up.

Munster were well beaten by Llanelli Scarlets and the story of the time I worked in Tallaght comes to mind.

There was this lovely girl who was the receptionist in The Depot. The Tallaght boys were good fun. One day I came into work and in typical country boy fashion my tie was slung over my shoulder like The Black Velvet Band.

One of the Tallaght boys had an aversion to men in suits. Maybe he was right. I never heard of anyone wearing overalls who ruined a country.

So there I was feeling fierce important and bossish in The Depot, with a Filofax in hand, like a Missionary Missive, and a bookies pen shoved in to the scabbard, with my 50pc polyester tie flung over my left shoulder. The Tallaght boy says to me: "Did you come to work on a motor bike?"

Munster were in too much of a hurry and they forgot the details. They tried too hard.

I'm just killing time. It's not in my nature to write bad things about a Munster team who care so much. I sometimes think we are too hard on our sports people.

You have men of 70 who look up to boys of 25. Where is the sense in that? It takes time to mature. I was the oldest in a nightclub in Naas at a stag last night. The women of Ireland are gone mad for gin with vegetables and a tonic that cures fever and Munster drowned their sorrows last night. Cheer up boys.

The girl in The Depot had the hair done. She twirled the hair into ringlets like the winding plastic binders used to keep files intact. I'd say the curling tongs was roasting.

"Your new hairstyle is lovely," says I.

The lovely Tallaght girl blushed up. "I'm scarla", says she. In that part of Dublin, the 't' is dropped at the end of the sentence. In Offaly the 't' is dropped in the middle. They can say the first 't' in Tayto, but the second 't' is as silent as the Kerry supporters when our very good friend Seamus Darby scored the goal that finished the five in a row.

It's Tayo and in Tallaght it's Talla. Scarlet is Scarla. And that's what the girl with the curls said to me, when I complimented her hairdo on the day my tie was gone with the wind.

She went as red as a Llanelli jersey. And alas and well may Munster weep, because some of our boys will be scarlet today and for a few more days to come.

We were beaten by a better team who were the more skilful footballers. They were faster, too. That silly story about the tortoise and the hare must have been written by a boy whose egg was always falling off his spoon.

Munster knocked on far too often. Scarlets went wide. Our Maginot Line didn't go all the way to the coast. Tackles were missed.

I have this fatherly dilemma. You wouldn't know whether to give Munster a roasting or a hug.

Munster would have taken a semi-final in Europe and a place in the Guinness PRO12 final at the start of the season. We were beaten by the winners in both competitions.

Decent

The man who made the most mistakes on the field of play was referee Nigel Owens, the best referee in the world and a thoroughly decent man whose honesty has helped so many gay men. Homer nods.

The Scarlets played offside more often than Casanova. The ref and his team ignored the outside defenders who cuckooed into Munster territory the very second Conor Murray passed the ball.

We have all kinds of rules to open up the game and encourage running rugby, but the referee and the touch judges didn't seem to see what was before their very eyes. The Scarlets offence broke the red light every time.

The ref was unsympathetic to Munster. He gave a try that was a forward pass and this decision put Scarlets well out of reach. That said, Scarlets were by some way the better team. Munster had a bad day.

But I'd be for hugging. After the game Donnacha Ryan, who played his last game for Munster, gave his medal to Jennifer Malone, a lovely girl from Clane. Jennifer was up in her hero's arms. Her smile told the story.

Keith Earls was minding his kids. There's great comfort to be taken from the company of children. They cry, get it all out and then within seconds the sadness is all forgotten. Simon Zebo loves his new baby and he says his prayers.

I wouldn't claim to know the Munster boys that well, or at all. There was a time when players went to the pub after the game.

But I saw how they were at Anthony Foley's funeral. They are good lads, staunch and true, who understand the Munster way of never giving in, minding your brothers and playing to the end.

I hope they are not beating themselves up too much, as they head off for the All Blacks, Japan, summer holidays or another club. You did not let Anthony down. He understood you and knew you, because he told me so.

The Holy of Foleys said they will make mistakes because they are young and that's how they will learn.

The Munster boys were under terrible pressure to perform for the sake of their coach. Emotion and grief can drain you. By the end of the season Munster were all out of tears, but inside they were drowning.

Maybe there weren't enough of the superb parts like when Munster scored, but if a team can play well in segments, the whole is only pieces away.

I was inducted into the Moyvane ICA and the women were knitting up colourful, coaster-size patches. Each woman did her own square and then the pieces were sewn together. So it will be with the Munster quilt.

The loss of Anthony Foley and the way his team responded will make this a forever season. His boys gave their all, and if they lost, well then they lost like men.

Munster, you played with the best of honest endeavour. Foley forever.

Irish Independent

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