Is there nothing Tommy Bowe can’t fix? There I was, despondent for the week at the thought of missing Leinster v Munster, unable to bring myself to add yet more sports channels to a TV package so large that has its own TD. There I was, ringing the mother to see was she still an Eir customer and was the free sports package still a thing (she wasn’t, but she was glad of the call).
There I was, bereft. When the smiliest, shiniest face ever to come out of Emyvale – and competition is stiff, you best believe it is – that face popped up, arriving on the scene with such perfect timing you’d swear he had heard that there was a cross kick about to drop from the sky at any second.
“Because we’re sports fans too we’re making the game completely free for anyone to watch on the Eir Sport Facebook page,” beamed Monaghan’s Greatest Ever Rugby Player.
(I played a game of rugby at school once during PE. I made one clean catch and successfully completed a put-in to a scrum. As a result I rank a quite respectable 87th on the list of Monaghan’s Greatest Ever Rugby Players. Dick Clerkin is fifth despite never having touched a rugby ball).
Here come the teams. It’s still taking a bit of getting used to, isn’t it? No matter the sport, no matter the venue, no matter the medium, it still feels odd to watch two teams strolling out into an empty stadium for a game. They look like live extras who’ve wandered onto the set of the wrong movie
They still blare the music in the Aviva. Out come the teams and on goes the racket. Why? They do know there’s nobody there, right? Of all the indignities suffered by the poor sports fan in these pandemic times, surely this is the worst – no spectators are allowed in through the gates but the dude who presses play on the ear-splitting music that everyone hates gets to go? Can’t we grass him up to Nphet?
Game on. Jordan Larmour starts like he’s had to sit through the odd uncomfortable video session in the past fortnight. Conor Murray dumps three high ones down on him in the opening six minutes, just to see if Larmour is as skittery in the air as he was when these sides met the first time around. The Leinster full-back doesn’t flinch, hoovering up all three. Liam Toland, on co-commentary, is delighted for the lad.
Toland, who has emerged from lockdown as 38 per cent bouffant, is clearly nervous for Munster. As early as the 16th minute, JJ Hanrahan is about to kick a penalty to the corner, a reasonably non-descript situation which the great man describes as no less than “a huge moment in Munster’s season”.
Though it feels like he’s maybe over-egging it a touch, the resultant nothing lineout does set the tone for the night. Munster are able to worm their way into the Leinster 22 time after time but find themselves toothless when they get there. At the other end Johnny Sexton goes for the throat the first time Leinster find an equivalent spot on the pitch and it ends in Ronan Kelleher reaching for the line. Toland is right to be nervous – Munster lose their lead and never get it back.
By the hour mark they’re hanging on at 10-3 down. Hanrahan misses one penalty. Hanrahan misses another. Sexton gets one solitary kick at the other posts and splits them. It’s the great man’s last kick of the night – he’s away and gone by the 68th minute, shaking his head and grimacing in familiar Sexton style as he heads for the bench.
Toland reserves the line of the night for Munster substitute flanker Chris Cloete whose body shape in sealing off after a tackle on Garry Ringrose has him purring.
“Who do you credit for that?” he asks, before answering his own question. “Partly the gym, partly Mammy and Daddy.”
In the end Leinster are far too strong for Munster. They suffocate the visitors, and the most one-sided rivalry in Irish sport hums a familiar tune.
“That’s one win from 16 visits to the capital for Munster,” says Conor Morris as the screen goes black. The Facebook feed doesn’t even hang around for the analysis. What else is there to say?