Yesterday brought the curtain down on Heineken European Cup rugby in Thomond Park as it currently exists. Given Munsters proud record in the Heineken Cup at the venue, it was disappointing to see them lose to Leicester.
Before yesterdays match, Munster had not lost a Heineken Cup match in Thomond Park in the 12 years since the Cup started. That’s an unbeaten run of 25 successive matches. No other team could claim to have achieved such a feat.
While the fans always knew that our fantastic home record would go some day, I don’t think anyone expected it to be yesterday. And especially not against Leicester.
For those of you that don’t follow rugby, I’ll give you some background. In 2002, Munster made it to the Heineken Cup final for the second time in 3 years. Having previously suffered the heartache to losing to Northampton in a final, their opponents that day were Leicester.
There was a couple of minutes left on the clock, and Munster were down by 15 points to 6. Munster needed a converted try to win. Camped in the Leicester 22, Munster were awarded a scrum about 5 metres from the line. As Peter Stringer prepared to put the ball into the scrum, Neil Back illegally hit the ball out of his hands and knocked it back to the Leicester side of the scrum. The foul was not picked up by either the touch judge or the referee and Leicester retained possession. That was the end of the dream. Leicester went on to win that final 15 – 6.
Forever referred to as the “Hand of Back”, Munster supporters have felt rankled by that loss ever since, and Leicester hold a “special” place in every Munster supporters heart. While a few supporters will deny that Leicester deserved to win that final, the general feeling is that they shouldn’t have had to resort to cheating to do it. It’s a matter of pride and honour.
Roll forward 5 years, and Thomond Park is hosting its last Heineken Cup match before being redeveloped. The supporters, the players and the managers are saying goodbye to an historic ground, full of cherished memories. Everyone wants to go out with a bang. Confidence is high. Remember that Munster have never lost a Heineken Cup game at Thomond Park. Sadly it wasn’t to be. The last European Cup game in the old Thomond Park will be forever remembered as the the day we lost our proud record to Leicester.
In the general scheme of things, it should be no big deal. Every winning run comes to an end, and Munster supporters will continue to follow their team through thick and thin, no matter where it takes us. We’ve been through the indescribable lows, and truly ecstatic highs. That’s part of the joy of following Munster – they never do things the easy way.
Although we lost to Leicester, we are through to the next round, albeit as one of the best runners-up. So our next match in the Heineken Cup will be an away Quarter Final. Judging by the results so far, we’ll be playing London Wasps. And although we have to face the fact that our home record is gone, the draw for the quarter finals is probably better for us than if we had won.
Even if we had won, and gotten a home quarter final draw, we still would have had to play it abroad, as Lansdowne Road is closed for redevelopment, and Croke Park is not available to the provincial rugby teams.
So all in all, every cloud does have it’s silver lining, and when the new Thomond Park reopens, we’ll just have to start a new unbeaten run. I’m already looking forward to Leicester coming over. Instead of 12,000 hungry supporters to face, they’ll have 26,000. Each and every one of them howling for Munster.