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'Even staunch Blues now fear a hiding'

IN THE RED CORNER: Three years ago Munster fan  NIALL KIELY  found it hard to be humble when faced with Leinster's delusions…

IN THE RED CORNER:Three years ago Munster fan  NIALL KIELY found it hard to be humble when faced with Leinster's delusions of adequacy. Today, he says it is impossible to be humble and much easier to be patronising.

DREADFUL CANARDS and shameful slights are doing the rounds of Munster textland this weekend. Sly, sleekit, faux-innocent questions. This column agonised through a dark night of the soul before it became obvious that in our Information Age, it would be venal to break an SMS joke-chain. Thus:

Question one: What do you call a Leinster supporter in Europe after May 2nd?

Question two: Felipe Contepomi said what to the garda who caught him speeding?

Question three: What do General Pinochet and Leinster have in common? (Answers at the end.)

Seriously, though. Now that we’ve finalised the Larne- Stranraer bookings, I suppose the Croke Park business must be got through somehow. It might even prove a semi-decent warm-up for Edinburgh, though the suspicion lingers that a team with more need in the gut than Leinster might lay down a stiffer test.

Why has the gap widened to the extent that even staunch Blues are sweating bricks, and (the honest ones) now fear a hiding?

Liverpool would be pleased if their Boot Room succession- model of old was still delivering Munster-smooth continuity. In Leinster, Michael “Butch” Cheika and his Sundance farceur, David Knox, strutted into town and inherited a pretty decent, albeit soft-centred squad. What’s been developed in the years since?

Frankly, not much. Importing instant-fix, High Veldt muscle isn’t going to provide either a medium or long-term solution – given a pack that still doesn’t get the difference between “want” and “need” to win – and gives not even immediate succour when any bought-in, beef-to-the-heel Boer heifer has Achilles’ hooves.

The organisation? It gave us the farce of Felipe Contepomi’s cocked-up original registration. It managed to let slip easily the best outhalf package it ever had: neat, unshowy David Holwell, who looked the playmaker most likely to let slip the hounds of O’Driscoll and D’Arcy. Even the daft loss of press officer Pat Geraghty has been Munster’s considerable gain. And as for Isa Nacewa: Lord, have mercy.

Last month’s ticketing debacle? Leinster rushed into sales, made a mess of that, as well as the aftermath of the Ticketmaster fiasco. Some genius then tried to strong-arm the province’s clubs with dire threat of consequence should Reds appear in “Blue” seating: ye gods. And the clubs were short-changed and left angry over their miserly allocations.

The Leinster playing style? To the external tracker, there’s evident spoor of internal dissonance. Is the “Real Leinster” the team which wiped Wasps off the RDS pitch, or the side which limped through the later ERC pool games – or is it the limp lot who went down tamely, home and away, to Munster in the Magners?

How can dependable, all-weather gameplans evolve with a unbiddable head-banger at outhalf; a superannuated Aussie crabbing inconsequentially at scrumhalf and a backrow lacking either a linking rover (sin of omission: Keith Gleeson was deaf to all pay or persuasion to give it a Johnny Logan?) or a lethal lumberjack (one of commission: non-selection of Seán O’Brien).

And contrast the disaffection among Leinster clubs with Munster Rugby. Munster Rugby has the goodwill of its provincial clubs. Not just the top-table Shannons, Garryowens, Cork Cons – it’s just as much the nascent likes of Cashel, the Castleislands and Carrick-on- Suirs. Most people I know in Leinster junior rugby are Munster supporters by inclination: they relate to a genuine entity that well represents them abroad. Chapters of Reds in Connacht, Ulster and across the diaspora have viscerally connected to a noble concept: a group of sportsmen has truly earned the troth of its motley; and a roiling terrace knows its faith is acknowledged in kind.

Reggie Corrigan had a weekend slap at “Lunsters” – Jonathan-come-latelies turned Redcoats. Some may of course be prawn-sandwich opportunists, but the vast majority I reckon became disenchanted over bitter years on the concrete steps of Donnybrook by the fundamentally uncaring “performance” of so-called professionals who simply couldn’t be arsed.

Appreciation of Munster’s simple virtues is now widespread. The text questions above came from Llanelli stalwarts. They know their rugby, their captain for years has been the revered Simon Easterby – who in his prime would have dovetailed seamlessly with most Munster backrows – and they are envious but admiring aficionados of the Munster project. The Scarlets even “get” Leinster: they’ve got their local ladyboys, the Neath-Swansea Ospreys. As my Llanelli friend Dewi might put it: “Niall bach, our Ashtrays are just like your Leinster – all fur coat and no knickers.”

One feels sorry for Leinster diehards – almost – and those three-quarter thoroughbreds. Just a couple of Magners from that sleek slew of gilded genius, lads? As Felipe might say: Jesús,

María y José!

But it’s really, genuinely not just about results. We’ve been to Lille and back, suffered the Backhand. Folks, it’s this simple: we Reds love the magnificent gestalt that is our Munster, we care deeply for these people who have leavened our quotidians with joy and brio and serious fun, we have endless time for our players who viscerally reciprocate our ardour.

Soon after seven o’clock this evening, the ultimate Red shout of the evening will succumb to susurrus, and in that fine sibilance will resonate our most recent epiphany. Bless these men.

And the answers: 1 A tourist; 2 At this stage, I’ll do anything for points; 3 Both gather people in stadiums and torture them.

Niall Kiely is a former Irish Timesjournalist and contributes to RTÉ’s What it Says in the Paper