Finally, a cure for Munster rugby superbug


Catastrophe followed Munster hubris as the sunshine boys of Irish rugby finally got serious, writes FRANK McNALLY

THE DECADE-LONG spread of the deadly MRSA (Munster Rugby Supporters Association) superbug appeared finally to be under control last night following a dramatic medical breakthrough in Dublin at the weekend.

The bug, which has been known to infect people as far north as Donnybrook, had resisted all previous treatments during Munster’s reign at the top of Irish rugby, claiming up to 50,000 victims at its height. But on Saturday evening at Croke Park, a Leinster-based team including surgeon Felipe Contepomi was at last able to announce a cure, in the form of a 19-point thumping of the European champions.

So rapid was the recovery of some red-shirted fans that they were seen to leave the stadium early, even while the dose was still being administered: their die-hard condition apparently already much improved.

No new MRSA cases have been diagnosed since and none are now expected, at least until next autumn.

In retrospect, Leinster’s resounding victory in the Heineken Cup semi-final was inevitable. Seeking to destroy Munster, at least temporarily, the gods first made their fans mad. Thus, to the rampant hubris that afflicted many before the game was added the crime of blasphemy, committed by those who arrived at Croke Park in T-shirts with the slogan: “We kick ass on Leinster grass.”

As they should have known, Croke Park no more belongs to Leinster than the Hill of Tara does. It is holy ground, where the high kings of Irish sport are elected. And on Saturday, not for the first time, it elevated a man called Brian. An hour after Dr Contepomi opened the scoring with a surgical strike, Brian O’Driscoll finished it with a length-of-the-field intercept try: yet another triumph in what has become his greatest season.

This vindicated the designers of at least one Leinster banner who, rubbing salt into their opponents’ wounds, subverted Munster’s favourite slogan to read: “Irish by birth, Leinster by the grace of BOD.”

And on the day the sunshine boys of Irish rugby finally got serious, on and off the pitch, nobody caught the mood better than O’Driscoll.

Accepting his man-of-the-match award afterwards, he seemed genuinely embarrassed to have been chosen at the expense of the team. He was also determined to remain grave-faced. In fact, in his efforts to demonstrate that beating Munster would mean nothing unless his team now won the competition, he looked like the chief mourner at a funeral.

Even aside from the epoch-ending result, this was an extraordinary occasion. If not for last of the cherry blossoms floating on the breeze, it could have been September, as 82,000 indigenous fans descended on Croker and then sat shoulder-to-shoulder, genially abusing each other.

Apart from a round ball and the Artane Band, all that was missing was the traditional post-match pitch invasion.

True, there is a corporate element to the Heineken Cup – a marketeer’s dream – that GAA events still don’t have. Firstly, everybody obligingly refers to the competition by the name of its sponsors. And then there are the flags. Leinster would have been notably short of them on Saturday if thousands had not been laid on free.

Oh, and yes, there was also the imported Public Announcement man, whose job is to hype up the occasion by saying things like: “Let’s rock Croke Park”.

Mercifully, this sort of thing was soon drowned out on Saturday by the actual crowd noise which, after a minute’s silence for the late Karl Mullen, did not need any manufacturing.

It should be said, in fairness, that only a small proportion of Munster supporters left early. These did not include the former GAA president Seán Kelly, who oversaw the vote to amend Rule 42 and admit rugby and soccer to Croker. Admittedly he had a motive for hanging around after the game in his red scarf. He’s a Fine Gael candidate in the European elections, complete with a dodgy slogan (“One rule – 4 2 serve Munster”) which was displayed on the campaign bus outside.

Despite the result, he was a justifiably proud man. “It was a wonderful occasion,” he said. “This game could have been played abroad and that would have been unpalatable. Instead, it was like an All-Ireland football final. Two Irish teams playing each other. Two passionate sets of supporters cheering them on. Everybody mixing together before and afterwards, and no hassle.”