Munster earn fitting reward for consistent season
RUGBY/MAGNERS LEAGUE FINAL:LEINSTER’S MEMORABLE season didn’t deserve to end in defeat, but then again, Munster’s season-long consistency in the Magners League and in a season of relative transition didn’t deserve to either. As bonus games go, the 2010-11 Magners League grand final lived up to its name, and both teams will summer all the better with winners’ medals in their pockets.
Judged by their own ridiculously high standards, this has been a trying season for Tony McGahan and Munster, yet the stats will show they have the best win-loss ratio of any team in frontline European competition this season and deservedly earned a league trophy with their 21st win in 24 games in the competition.
“It’s huge for everyone right across the board,” said McGahan. “From the playing group, the management and the organisation to the development officers and young players coming through, and more important to the supporters. They can walk around with a smile on their faces, knowing that we have done something very important in the context of the Magners League season.”
Munster’s win was all the sweeter not just because they took the scalp of their nearest rivals, but because Leinster have unquestionably been the best side in Europe this season.
“I thought Leinster were absolutely terrific today,” said McGahan. “To come here after winning the Heineken Cup and bring the energy and competitiveness that they did showed that they are a massive side, and certainly one that we have a great amount of respect for.”
In an atmosphere like the halcyon days of the AIL, or, as Denis Leamy likened it, to a Munster-Anglo affair in the old Thomond Park, they battered into each other for a compelling 80 minutes and an hour later were chatting away like long lost friends.
Paul O’Connell summed up a cracking day best: “I think today was a very good thing for Irish rugby. We haven’t always been where we would like to have been over the last two years, but I think that Leinster and Munster have always made each other better, and we have made the Irish team better by driving on standards.
“Both sides have a lot of leadership, and no little skill. People talk about this being a good era for Ireland, and when you look at some of the young players coming through, you would be very confident for the future.
“Obviously I haven’t seen the game, but it seemed to me to be a very tough, high-standard game, with a lot of very good stuff at the breakdown in particular, which is so important. I think it would be a good advertisement for the Irish game, and for the Magners League in general.”
Equally gracious in defeat, Joe Schmidt acknowledged that fatigue was a factor, but also admitted: “To be honest, I kind of felt that they needed it more than we wanted it. They showed a lot of character, and that made it difficult for us to really keep our tempo, and play the game that we wanted to play. Even when we did have a little bit of momentum, we didn’t quite have the sharpness that has allowed us to become successful so far.
“I spoke to the team in the dressingroom and said to the lads ‘that is the little bit of bitterness that we need to store away for next season, if we can get to the same stage of the competition. It’s the second year in a row that it has happened. But I want you to reflect on the season as a whole. The effort and energy you have thrown into it, you deserve to look back with a fair bit of credit on what you have achieved’.”
In the immediate bitterness of defeat, though, Jamie Heaslip admitted: “We had the chance of taking two pieces of silverware but we only got one. You know me, I’m a competitive player and I’m not happy with that, but hey, I’ve got my four weeks off.”
Well earned too, by all of them.