While the mainstream media argues over the number of Munster fans in the Millennium Stadium (with reports ranging from 55 thousand to 70 thousand!), one thing is for sure and that’s that it was a stadium of red, with Munster fans well out-numbering Biarritz fans, as widely predicted.
Cardiff was home to the European Heineken Cup, and an invasion of Munster fans over the weekend. Me, I went over on Friday morning with some dedicated Tipp lads. Up at 6am, 4 hour ferry crossing from Dublin to Holyhead, and a 5 & 1/2 hour drive from there to Cardiff. Another Tipp man, and his good wife, put us up there. We had it lucky, judging by some of the stories I’d heard throughout the weekend, including StgÂ£200 each-way taxi trips for some staying in nearby cities!
Having gone with no ticket, I’d almost resided to the fact I’d be watching the game in a pub. Part of me was agreeing with everyone who was saying “you’ll get one just before the game”, and that certainly has been my experience for any sporting event. I was prepared to pay above face-value, but not to some ticket tout.
O’Neils (the “real one” on Trinity St., and not the big one around the corner!) became our home. The weekend started off with a tiring group of us heading to our home away from home away from home! It wasn’t long before the second lease of life came, and the drink, banter, craic and song began to flow.
Ulster had drawn in the Celtic League, so Leinster were still in with a with a chance, albeit a much diminished one. You’re reading the blogs of one of the very few crossover fans to support Munster and Leinster (although Munster will always be first!).
Along came a phone call from an unknown number. I missed it by less than a second. Assuming it was a wrong number, I texted it back to confirm. “Hi, this is … have you a ticket?”. My knees trembled. The boys were laughing at the extent of the shake in my hand (not drink induced!). Outside I go to ring. It turns out to be the father of my cousin’s husband! I’d met them (cousing & hubbie) during the week. I don’t remember asking for a ticket, but I’m sure I mentioned, no matter how indirectly, that I was in need of one, but going over anyway. The night was on! A round of “Baby Irish” (a Sheridan’s Liqueur ripoff, in a small divided plastic glass) to celebrate, and more to come. The relief, the happiness, but the apprehension that it might all fall through!
A quick trip around to Wood Street/St Mary Street to say hello to more Munster natives, ignoring the bucketing rain, a pretty awful bar staff in Prince of Wales, and a phone call later from the wife of my ticket-holder, just to confirm it was for me and it’d be here in the morning. The apprehension was lifted almost completely! There was only
After what seemed like a week (but a good one), we head for Burger King to finish the night off in style. After a stint in a local nightclub, Barfly, that is. Taxis home, and hardly the energy to say “Good night” before we’re catching up on some shut-eye.
Saturday morning was a slow/rough start to what we’d hope would be a great day! Our dreams, obviously, came true. After a much needed and appreciated fry-up in Tuck Inn, we headed into the stadium to meet my God of the day (the ticket holder), we went back to O’Neils for a few. They had a bar set up in the window, and I swear they couldn’t have made it more disorganised if they tried. There was room for four times as many taps, and at least twice the staff. They would have made so much more money instead of it going to the local off-licenses instead!
The wind was cool and strong, but we knew the roof of the stadium would be closed anyway. We were all on single tickets so, once we got to the stadium, we went our own merry ways. O’Neils, was the meeting point for afterwards. A good-luck handshake and moments later I was sitting on the half-way line on the lower tier, near the back. Delighted with being in there at all, I wasn’t bothered by not being able to see high ball, or the scoreboards. They did have small TVs suspended from our ceiling, but the scores/time wasn’t display on these. In to the game they’d stopped showing replays, presumably because of the big boo after the replay of Bobo’s try.
As with my Toulouse write up, I’ll leave the technical details of the game to those with more expertise! The roar when Halstead did the deeds, the crowd went wild. I’d some very passionate and drunk Cork boys around me, and I got a nice elbow to the lip (accidental of course, because there was nothing but love in that stadium!).
Half time came, and I went down to the front to get the splendour and awe of the stadium. Truely amazing! Red everywhere, and a beautifully flood lit stadium, that was HUGE!!!
What really hurt my ears and throat was when Strings crossed the line. I just happened to be talking to the guy next to me just before it, and we’d agreed that the abuse he’s been getting of late was over the top. As if by magic, I happened to glance right at his face at the exact time to see the classic facial expression just before his run to the line. It looked as if he knew he was being cheeky. He looked confident of the move he was about to make too, though! It worked!
What about Rog’s perfect record, including one of the most pressured moments in Irish rugby’s season? 5 out of 5, and the last one to secure Munster’s deserved place and title. So, after the game, I bought more beer (the queues were non-existent!). I just sat down near the front to take it all in. I greet the few Munster fans I recognise, and I head to our meeting point.
Still in disbelief, I get to Trinity St, and the street party is as alive there as it is all the way back to the stadium. There is a low key police presence, and a very friendly force. After our re-group, we headed back towards the stadium to the City Arms. George Hook walked the street to a torrent of abuse (good natured, that is) and loved it! We missed the Munster bus leaving, but were content with our day.
Lots of banter with supporters, officials, Biarritz fans, policemen, locals! All were thrilled for our win. Not one person suggested that it wasn’t our turn. The policemen put up with some amount of craic, in what must have been a true test of their character. The management of the stadium called in for a few. We got chatting with them and they sent the father of one our group over to collect the big Heineken flags they were taking down. They were saying that of all their time there (and listed Cup Finals, and major sporting events & concerts), this was by far the best atmosphere they’d witnessed!
Some local brew and some time later we headed for home. Barely able to stand (not just drink related!), we manage to walk the few miles home, get the grub in and share some chat. Layla was the theme song for the evening, an inside joke for readers who were amongst the group! Some banter and craic later, it was bed time to be up for what was to be a 13 hour journey home.
Surprisingly fresh, we get up an hour before the alarm, and only get lost twice on the way back to Holyhead. We were one for the first there, so got our seats by the TV which proved to be valuable later when we were shown the team homecoming, to Limerick, on TV.
The good .. the unbelievable atmosphere (in volume and in support) at the stadium. The last minute ticket miracle. The God-send of a couch in Cardiff. The good natured fun (although, as with any supporters, in any sport, there were a few there for all the wrong reasons). The Burger King on the Friday night.
The bad .. that wind on Saturday morning was unnatural. Hearing of real fans paying hundreds of Euro for a ticket that was going on sale outside the stadium for Â£5 less than face value. The length of the journey.
A big thank you to my chauffeur D, my good hosts for the weekend E&S, and to all the boys there for sporting event of a lifetime.