In the early days Leinster had low points, very low points, and this, writes Catherine Kavanagh…
Much & all as I want to forget this particular match ever happened, it marks a huge turning point in the evolution of the Leinster ethos and the fan base as we know it today. It deserves its place in the catalogue.
Toulouse at the end of March 2006. I thought about trying to do justice to that game in writing, but I couldn’t then and can’t now. The clocks moved forward that weekend. So too did we. Both on and off the pitch. The Toulousains stood in file and clapped us and our team out of the stadium. I can remember gangs of us standing outside the team bus area and screaming like teenagers at anyone arriving out of the players’ enclosure. Stuart Barnes stopping a group of us and shaking everyone’s hand. “Jeez we thought you preferred Munster Stuie”. “Not any more”!
The next three weeks of that gentle sunny April passed in a feverish sick-with-excitement blur. Munster were booked to visit Lansdowne Road. None of the Thomond Park witchery guff could apply for them now. They had barely scraped through their own pool game, in comparison with our glory days in the Sud Ouest. We had beaten them that year in an Interpro. We were finally gearing up to make the statement that we knew had been on our lips since the European Cup idea became more than just a concept. As match week wore on, the traditionally “above-that-class-of-thing” RTE Morning Ireland sports slot was extended and extended again to give the respected former greats their 30 seconds of punditry.
My abiding memory of that week was Gerry Thornley’s Friday morning death knell. “Nobody beats Munster twice”.
Something about that phrase still rankles with me today.
The experience of moving slowly down Anglesea Road to our designated meeting point in Ballsbridge and suddenly realising that as primary colours go, red is a damn sight sharper on the eye than royal blue, is not something I’ll forget in a hurry. Arriving onto “our” colony point on the old East Terrace and watching David Knox spinning a ball 60 metres towards his backs like he wanted to be playing himself. Denis Hickie and Felipe, heads down, caged cheetahs, bouncing through their paces. And as the match started, and as it became all to evident that Jerry Flannery and Denis Leamy had done their homework on our pedigree racehorse, we stood abjectly, watching what we knew was a new world order take shape.
Felipe can take great credit from how he recovered from that day. I speak as a rugby fan first and as a Leinster fan second. It must have taken all of his professionalism to withstand the sustained onslaught by a Munster pack that clinically targeted a perceived weak link. He’s had better days for us and for Argentina, before and since. He won’t look back on that day with any fondness. He had cupped his hands to his ears a few months’ previously at a Magners’ League Derby in the RDS, in a blatantly provocative motion to the vocal Munster support after he’d silenced their cat calls in the best way possible. Those of us with a human streak in our rugby brains forgave him. Many have not. Munster ‘s pack clearly didn’t, and it showed that day.
David Knox left Leinster& Ireland that year. You always got the feeling that Knoxie would rather have been walking barefoot up the road at Coffs Harbour in any case. The misery of one Northern Hemisphere winter and a rugby season was enough.
Munster finally, finally, won their big game in probably the best stadium in the European Cup’s stable. A closed roof only adds to the drama in games like those. You couldn’t begrudge it of them. You felt you couldn’t even begrudge O’Gara’s showboating after he nailed an excellent try in front of the South Terrace that day. True, they’d been unbearable to us after the game on April 23, but we stopped taking it personally after a while. It was an obsession, a perfect sweet reply to their perceived sense of injustice that we somehow “got more out of the game” in Ireland than they did. They also saw to it that Irish Rugby was finally taken seriously in the European game.
We regrouped. We licked our collective wounds. Mick Dawson publicly lauded the fans who’d been so comprehensively muted. Cheika held his head up and pushed his team onwards. 2006/7 was a challenging one too. However, if you’re reading this & you remember it, you’re probably a survivor of those dark, strange, irritating times. We know from experience that we had to sink low to enjoy the highs. There’ll be other bad days. Tell the younger or newer ones around you when they come along that we’ve weathered worse storms! Don’t tell them too much about April 23 2006 though. It still gives me nightmares.
Update Sep 12 - "An eagle eyed reader spotted the inaccuracy in my article. It's been amended now. Thanks to that person and abashed apologies! :-)"
Catherine [@KavanaghCK] is a Dubliner with a strong sense of outrage and blind loyalty to all things Blue. She attributes these faults sorry qualities to her role as the instigator of the Leinster Supporters' movement. Serious Family involvement in Irish Rugby over the generations and being the son her father never had, has left her with Oval-Ball dementia. This is an incurable condition.
When Catherine isn't at the RDS supporting Leinster she works in London & enjoys visits to Rosslyn Park RFC where she is a non-playing member. These afternoons remind her of the amateur days, when the beer was cheap & the talk was cheaper.