Unnerving kickers with the sound of silence
CASTRES, when they are taking their penalty kicks at goal at Musgrave Park in Cork today, are unlikely to be subjected to what the poet Edward Lear described as the "awful darkness and silence reign, over the great Gromboolian plain" or, more appropriately, in the context of the Heineken European rugby Cup, "the rolling hills of Clare."
As Irish rugby has always known, and as World rugby is beginning to realise, when a penalty kick at goal is being taken at Thomond Park in Limerick, pins being dropped in Ennis can be plainly heard as can the buzzing of the butterflies in Patrickswell.
Not, I hasten to add, that there will be any unseemly disturbances at Musgrave. As Cork people will insist if you ask them, they are not that far behind Limerick rugby folk in the matter of good manners.
But there is no argument about Thomond. The silence is more profound. The silence of the lambs. Silent, upon a peak in Darien, or at least in Doolin.
What, I wonder, brought about this strange phenomenon in the first place? It is, I'm told, an age-old tradition, handed down, part of the culture of the city. It is, as someone has said, "an example of social awareness and good manners in Limerick where people respect their betters, and their inferiors and tolerate their equals."
There is that story of the Young Munster out-half who was a foreman in the heyday of the railways, a post of some consequence. Outside him, in the centre for Young Munster, was one of his railway workmen. And that centre, even in the heat of battle, knew his place with his constant chant of "out to me, Mr Brown, pass it out, Mr Brown."
Once, a gang of workmen all supporters of one club were digging up a road when the Angelus bell of St Munchin's rang out. When they stopped for their silent prayer, their ganger interrupted to tell them to get back to work. "That church," he admonished them, "is a different parish and a different club."
There are, of course, a substantial group of the woefully misguided who claim that the silence for kicks in Thomond is a deep-laid Limerick plot calculated to intimidate the kicker.
And there is no doubt that kickers from far afield find the silence unnerving. They have been brought up differently. They are used to the tumult of Cardiff and Paris and other bedlams east and west. But at Thomond their expressions as they look at the ball and the distant goalposts are akin to someone who has just been officially informed that they are required by the Flood Tribunal.
The fact is that even when a Limerick club faces another Limerick club the silence at Thomond for kicks at goal is still total which, it will be appreciated, takes some gulping down on both sides of the local divide.
To turn from quiet kicking to a sartorial note, I noticed that someone has pointed to the difference between Munster supporters and Leinster followers as Munster in faded anoraks and Leinster in sheepskins.
Maybe the references are generic, like those dismissive references to "suits" and "blazers" beloved by the unwashed.
Do sheepskin coats and jackets exist anymore? If I had one I wouldn't wear it in the less-than-salubrious surroundings of Donnybrook and risk rubbing against the faded anoraks of the majority of those in attendance.
But to turn from the world of silence for kicks, to the fantasy world of the Olympic Council of Ireland, sports associations like Bobsleigh, Baseball, Archery, Fencing and wait for it Tae Kwon Do, each with a single vote, of equal power with the major Olympic sports, can decide at February's AGM, who will rule the roost for the next four years.
I could mention other sports with disproportionate power but we would need a second 'phone box to fit in all their participants.
But let's not blame those sports, most of whom have never competed in the Olympics. It's the constitution of the OCI which is to blame.
I hope Richard Burrows wins the vote for president. I have known him since he was a student accountant and have the height of respect for him.
An interesting financial statistic that bears thinking about comes from the last published accounts of the OCI. In grants, it gave £36,000 to Tae Kwon Do and gave £5,000 to Irish Athletics according to the 1998-'99 accounts.
You think I'm joking? Well, I'm not. That statistic is a fact. And, by the way, I can hardly wait for the Irish Olympic Baseball team to take on the New York Yankees. In Abbotstown. Sponsored of course by the Olympic Council.