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Tears of sorrow, pride and joy on day of heroic failure

Never play 'Spin the Wheel' with a rugby ball. With only minutes to go, the reeling French could not control a dribbling grubber.

The ball stuck in the Clermont track on the roulette wheel and so an impossible comeback was foiled by that moody bitch Lady Luck, the cruellest mistress of them all.

Munster stayed true to their tradition of fighting to the last drop. You cannot ask more than that. We were desperately proud of our team, but in the end a bobble of a ball cost us the game.

The day turned out fine, but when we landed in Montpellier the rain came down in digger buckets. It was a home away from home. The Munster fans were wrapped in winter woollies for what should have been a few days of badly needed sun.

Two Tipp lads told us of a drive through snow on the way from Rodez. And we used to think Ireland was the only country in the world with four seasons in the one day.

There was a Thurles-Liberty Square lunch in the Place de l'Europe.

We shook hands with an older man from the higher slopes of the Comeraghs. His hands were as rough as sandpaper from years of toil. Probably signed the land over to the son or daughter, and now, at last, he and his wife had a bit of a break from the unrelenting slavery of running a family farm.

"Herself", he called her, and Herself told us: "We always dreamt of going to a Munster match. And now we're here. I can't believe it."

The sign on the shop front of the appropriately named Place De Comedie read 'Sandwicherie'. The mountain man studied the sign carefully and then after due consideration he said to Herself: "I wonder would we get a sandwich here."

Clermont fans outnumbered Munster by about six to one. There mustn't be a tin of war paint left in the Auvergne. For a while we thought we really were in Liberty Square when Clare were in their pomp. The blue and yellow was everywhere.

The Clermont brass bands played stirring music and the leader of the one on the Michelin van wore odd multi-coloured sports stockings. He must have played junior GAA.

And the Clermont fans gave it socks. They were the best supporters ever. Grace in victory was their watchword. Munster were well outnumbered but still sang to hoarseness even when the team was 13 points down.

The trip was too expensive for the people of Munster. The miserly spring growth of hedgehog grass and the continuing recession has emptied the Munster purse.

Ryanair, once the champion of the ordinary man, were charging nearly €500, seat only, from Shannon. The travel companies were very dear.

The cost of the one night in Montpellier, the few drinks, the food and the bottle of perfume for Herself would leave you with so little change out of a grand, you wouldn't put it in the poor box for fear of insulting St Anthony.

The marketeers tell us the only section of Irish society who are spending money right now are the over 55s, and they were there in plenty. And well entitled they were.

I saw a man in his late 60s kiss his partner. And as it was France, you can guess the nature of the kiss. I hope they got a room. You're only young several times.

criticism

We met Paul O Connell's dad, a lovely man, and he was hurting from the criticism of his son for the kicking incident against Leinster. All I could say was whatever the rights and wrongs of Paul playing or not playing against Clermont, it has been accepted his boy had no malice in his heart.

We wish Dave Kearney a speedy recovery, and Robert Bunyan too. Robert is a school pal. He captained the Kerry minors to win the All-Ireland in 1975. What a player he was and what a man he is now.

Robert is fighting a massive battle after a fall from a roof. We lit a candle for 'Bingin', as we used to call him, in Montpellier Cathedral.

Another of our sporting heroes may have played his last game; he brought his baby boy on to the pitch. Ronan O'Gara controlled what was a manic last half-hour with a succession of superb kicks and clever passes. It was as good a 30 minutes as he has ever played.

We were told of the lady who made out Jessica O'Gara by the side of the pitch when the battle was lost and won.

"You can be very proud of your husband," she said.

Jessica cried. Tears of sorrow and maybe goodbye , but tears of joy and pride too. Out on the field, babe in arms, the great man was crying.

We all cried. For, and with, Ronan and Munster.

Irish Independent