Thursday, April 27, 2006

Munster Leinster Rugby Review

On Sunday last, in my capacity as a match steward checking tickets at a gate inside the inside the ground, I attended the Munster versus Leinster semi final of the Heineken Cup rugby match at Lansdowne road. This was the final rugby game ever to be played there before Lansdowne Road is demolished and redeveloped, and the match was an immediate sell out. The sporting fixture gods could not have engineered a more fitting finale for the last rugby game to be played there. Tickets on E bay reputedly changed hands for 1800 euro and the atmosphere was electric. By far the most exciting rugby match I have seen and one already being written into legend.

This job is one of the few benefits to come from living in Dublin’s social underbelly, as you can only get a start by word of mouth and the guys who do it are mainly all boozers who see it as an easy way of making 45 euro whilst getting to see matches others will pay silly money to watch.

There are two types of steward, voluntary and paid. The paid stewards are all old school ready witted Dubliners who work in what is effectively a closed shop, as to get a start, you have to know someone who’ll take you along and introduce you. A throwback to the pre-Celtic tiger era and one which will end for good after the last event, a music concert by the Eagles this summer. A come day go day era of men turning up on speck, often directly from the pub, who then form in a crowd like the old dockers pen, hoping to get picked for a job; and after being paid at the end of the match, make their way back to the boozer.

The voluntary stewards are all healthy looking sports types who attend to see the match for free, impeccably dressed and carrying packed lunches. You can tell the difference between the two very easily. The paid stewards are all red, ruddy complexions and bloodshot eyes compared to their athletically fresh and bushy tailed volunteer counterparts.

Yeats’s notion of Old Ireland being With O’Leary in the grave and the idea that the true Ireland is always somewhere in the past, is a continuous theme from my experience of the place and can be summed up in a phrase I heard when visiting an aged relative in Cork, who, when asked how life was treating him, replied flourishing and perishing, flourishing and perishing. So as one era or activity comes to its natural end, another is there, as ever, awaiting its turn and time as the future history to be mourned once the young fade and the force that drives their fuse loses its first flush of youth and the blossom withers.

But the force of youth was not fading on Sunday, as I watched and learnt the finer points of difference between Irelands premier Rugby rivals. Munster’s home ground is Thomond Park in Limerick, a fortress they have never been beaten at in this competition, which began in 1994. Their supporters clearly had the majority of tickets and they were the most fanatical bunch I have witnessed there and easy to see how intimidating they would be to a visiting team in Thomond Park. As luck would have it they were mostly in the East and South stands, bathed in continual sunshine, whilst the Leinster fans were in the West and North stands, in the shade. Lansdowne is all concrete and notoriously cold in the shade, particularly if like on Sunday, there’s a nippy breeze to blunt the warmth. And especially beneath the stands were the paid stewards man the entrances; but where many, as soon as the game begins, desert their posts to go watch the game.

There were people giving away Leinster and Munster flags outside and inside the ground and the stadium was a sea of red and blue. Red for Munster and Blue Leinster, which added a real sense of carnival and occassion. I, after deserting my position, found myself next to the most fanatical of the Munster fanatics. A gang of thirty or so supporters with boudrans and bedecked in full fancy dress regalia, headed by a man with an electric megaphone rousing the supporters and leading their song of Low Lie the fields of Athenry, much to the displeasure of the two stewards with me who continually shot him disapproving glances which had no effect whatsoever on him, or me; as I was carried along on the tide of sheer passion, a Munster fan for the afternoon.

The neutral supporter could not fail to be moved by their exuberance, energy and loudness, much more spirited than the Leinster lot who are cut from a slightly posher cloth. My mate sketched the difference between the two. Leinster players are usually drawn from the public schools of Ireland, like Blackrock College and other Dublin schools obsessed with rugby, and their style of play is skilful and fluid, like Brazilian soccer. However the Munster tradition is one of dockers and tough Limerick and Cork city boys or Munster farmers who are not afraid to get physical and this is how they negated Leinster and stopped them from playing their usual silky passing game.

Munster got a try in the first few minutes, setting out their stall from the off by getting stuck straight in and dominating the pitch by sheer force of physical will. And when we went pitchside for the last five minutes it was a truly memorable sight. Munster got a try in the dying seconds and after the game ended 30 6 the ballad singer Paddy Reilly came over the speaker singing Athenry and the whole stadium lit up and filled the afternoon air with communal song.

The next game is a friendly soccer match with Chile on May 25, and one which promises to be a corker. The new manager, Stan Staunton had his first one a couple of months ago with Sweden, and even though it was a friendly it was the most exciting match of either rugby or soccer I had seen there. Stan is an ex Ireland and Liverpool soccer player and legend. Prior to coming in as manager the team had no unity and looked decidedly uninspired, but they beat Sweden 3 0 and so he started well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great column, keep up the good work. best wishes, mark,limerick.