Sunday 25 February 2018

Unusual role of underdog will suit the Reds just fine

Ulster's Michael Heaney reaches back to score his side's first try despite being tackled by Munster’s Casey Laulala at Thomond Park last Saturday
Ulster's Michael Heaney reaches back to score his side's first try despite being tackled by Munster’s Casey Laulala at Thomond Park last Saturday

Denis Leamy

There will be a lot of things going through players' minds as they psych themselves up for this evening and, for some of the more experienced lads, one of them will be that when they come in for training next week, they will still have something to play for.

The reality is that, regardless of whether they win or lose this evening, the players still have a few weeks to run in the season and that means training next week even if there is no further match.

I have been in that situation a couple of times and it's horrible. It's bad enough losing a big match at the business end of the season and then have to face a few weeks at the mercy of the strength and conditioning guys.

It is part and parcel of the life of a professional player, but those few weeks can be the toughest to endure.

They'll have plenty of other reasons to go out and win this evening not least the prospect of an all Irish final, against either Leinster or Ulster.

I can't see them getting too bogged down in the fact that an away team has never won one of these semi-finals. Munster have always been ground-breaking and will probably try and latch on a small bit to become the first side to achieve an away semi-final success.

They will also feel that their time has now come and it is hard to believe that a third season in a row could pass without silverware.

COMPENSATION

We might have won only two Heineken Cups, but there was always a Celtic League or Cup every odd year as compensation.

I hope last week's performance against Ulster has not done too much damage. It was a terrible result against an understrength Ulster side and you just couldn't see that coming. They knew Ulster were going to be understrength and seemed to have prepared quite well with that in mind, but nothing seemed to click on the day and it just went away from them.

I would be worried that that sort of performance could do a lot of damage to confidence but I'm sure a lot will take hope in the fact that over the last couple of years they seem to bounce back after each poor display.

They won't have it easy against an in-form Glasgow side who have been building for the past few years. Indeed, both sides are more or less at the same juncture with two or three years steady growth and now feeling they are poised for honours.

It's a cup final really for both teams as a loss would be a big setback, but I have no doubt that if Munster show up and perform like they did against Toulouse and Toulon, they will win.

The worry is, of course, that there has been so much inconsistency and Glasgow have shown they will pounce on any opening.

The manner in which they ruthlessly put Zebre away in the opening half last weekend showed that they mean business this year.

They have had some painful experiences at this stage of the competition and have lost three semi-finals in the past four years. Of course, all three of those were away from home and they will now feel that, having earned a home semi-final, their time has come to become the first Scottish team to reach the final.

Indeed, it is unusual that Munster will probably be underdogs going into this one, but that will suit them just fine and the more they can load the expectation on Glasgow the more they can exploit it.

You would hope that Munster will use the hurt from that performance against Ulster as a driving force and deliver a big display at a venue where they have already won this season.

There was a bit of an edge to that match back in October and both will go into this as a cup match where there will be little between them.

As I've said, both of these sides are at a crossroads, but for Munster there is also the factor of the coaching team departing at the end of the season and they will be very anxious to depart with some silverware that would reflect all of the hard work and the progress made over the past couple of years. But, to do that, Munster will need to play like they did against Toulouse rather than what was produced last weekend.

They know themselves they have what it takes to advance, but there is a big difference between knowing it and producing it and it's up to this group to go out and deliver or else they will be back in training next week with a lot of regrets.

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