Like old times in Limerick again as supporters help make Thomond a formidable fortress for Munster
From the blindside:Around midday on Saturday, I went up and stood at the top of the East Stand in Thomond Park and looked around me. Kick-off was still a good six hours away and the stadium was only just getting going for the day. It’s a quiet place when there’s nobody about and it was nice to take a moment to visualise what might happen there later that day.
I used to like doing it as a player in the hours leading up to a big game but there’s a difference between doing it looking out the window of a hotel room and doing it looking out over the pitch and the stands and all around.
When you’re a player, you never get to see the ground in this state on a match day. You never miss what you never had but standing there on Saturday watching all the different teams of staff getting organised for the game, I began to see the day a different way. As a player, you’re cut off. You don’t see what goes into getting the place ready, what goes into everything from the corporate set-up to the stewarding to the TV broadcast. How so many people put their energies into making the day a success.
It made me think about the crowd that was going to turn up later on.
What sort of crowd would it be? Would they be the old-style Munster crowd that made a Saturday evening Heineken Cup game special? Would they do all they could to have a bearing on the game?
Or would they sit back and wait on the game to come to them, as has happened a few times over the past two years?
A player knows the crowd will never win them a game. When coaches try to bang home the importance of getting the crowd involved, it always comes with a warning that it’s you who has to take responsibility and go and do your job. The crowd won’t make a tackle and they won’t score a try.
But nobody denies that the crowd can and will be a factor. A big English team was coming to Limerick for a Saturday evening game and if Munster were going to win, they were going to need the crowd to help them out. That’s what I was hoping would happen anyway.
It used to be the case that this was a given. You never had to hope because you knew it would be there. But gradually over the last couple of years, there’s been a bit of a change in the Munster support.
Everybody has noticed it. The crowd hasn’t been quite as vocal as it used to be. The fervour that used to surround the games hasn’t reached the same heights. There were even some empty seats at Heineken Cup games last year.
Obviously, there are good reasons for this. The recession has hit Limerick very hard and people have to make their own choices about what to do with their money. The turnover in players has brought in some unfamiliar faces to the team so there isn’t the same buzz around the ground just yet when those players get on the ball as there was when somebody like a David Wallace or a Jerry Flannery did.