Monday 26 February 2018

We all must ask Santa to keep O'Connell and Earls free from injury

Ian Keatley
Ian Keatley
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was an extension to a house going up in one of the suburban estates near Thomond. The first time I've seen any construction in seven years in these or any other parts, apart from the fitting of a light bulb or the changing of the mat outside the dole office. I often wonder who it was that broke the mirror and will they be brought to account.

A slim woman with a shopping bag told us she was making brunch. I'd say she cuts the rinds off the rashers. The kick-off was at quarter to one. A time when you'd be going in to watch the minor game. TV decides kick-off times. Money talks and so big games are played before the dinner.

You wouldn't want to spend too much time admiring the plasterwork because Munster scored while the superb choir from Castle Island Gaelscoil Aogain were still finding their seats. That very clever footballer Johne Murphy made it with two or three touches and Sean Dougall scored under the posts.

Dougall was the exact opposite of his namesake – the hapless priest in 'Father Ted'. He was all go and it was go with purpose. Dougall isn't the biggest by rugby standards but like 'Jack and the Beanstalk', he has the knack of stealing from bigger men. If I ever get my trouser leg trapped in an escalator, I'll call Sean Dougall to free it out.

The crowd here are better than almost anywhere but there was a sense of we've seen it all before.

You always felt that if the team needed a boost, then the fans were ready, but the early domination put the supporters too much at ease.

There was of course the eejit who shouted 'shut up' just as Ian Keatley, who was excellent, was running up to take a kick. Keatley missed. This sound of silence isn't all it's cracked up to be. The lads in the subs in the war pictures used to go nuts from it. Silence gives eejits solo billing for ignorant interjections. Maybe it's time to change the convention. The round of applause for Nelson Mandela is far more inspiring.

'Get back here Keith Earls this very minute and do your homework'. I'm sure his mammy must have said that at some stage, as all mammies do. His house over the wall, down the road. But Keith kept on going. Over he went for a superb long-range try.

His cityman Paul O'Connell has never looked fitter. Paul is a sportsman who really cares for his team and their followers. That conviction shows in his every play. We must ask Santa to keep Keith and Paul injury-free.

The bonus try was still eluding the Munster men late in the game. Perpignan had the wind behind them in the second half and kicked Munster into their own half.

The hour mark passed by and Munster were on a rare visit to the Perpignan line. Over and back they went looking for a weak spot.

Up they hoisted Dougall, the lightest of the pack at a mere 104 kilos. He caught an overthrown line-out ball by spiking it with his nails. Or so it seemed. Dougall just has to be in Joe Schmidt's plans now. He came down by parachute. Penalty try. Christmas bonus paid up. The rest of the game was a lap of honour.

Earls went in for what might have been his second try but the TMO, with no sense of romance, cancelled the score. Earls was later given man of the match by way of consolation.

The replacement front-row pushed the French over for try number five. Very rare that against a team from a town where props sign more autographs that out-halves.

DANGER

The stadium emptied quickly. It wasn't a day for curtain calls. There was more of a feeling of a job well done. The danger now is that Munster might think it will be easy in France. This team went over to Edinburgh as hot favourites and in the end were lucky to get a point for being good losers.

Perpignan could have scored three more tries with a little luck and a little more precision. We may well have do without Conor Murray, near enough the best scrum-half in the world, but his replacement Cathal Sheridan was tidy, busy, bossy and brave.

The city will be bustling now with the mix of match-goers and Christmas shoppers. There are still three or more hours' shopping to closing time. I'd rather face into working in a bog too wet to take machinery.

Brunch-time rugby is made up for the shops. It's the toughest shift of all for some of us, though.

There will be talk of bargains and maybe now, the winning of the Heineken Cup. It's week by week, though. Every match now is knockout. Was it ever any other way?

Irish Independent

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