Munster savour long-awaited triumph, to which so many contributed

‘It’s a special, special day,’ says Tadhg Beirne as players and staff hail fans, families and lost friends

It’s been a long 12 years, too long really. So, it would be stretching things to say it was worth the wait. But the wait sure made the celebrations all the sweeter after Munster’s 19-14 win over the Stormers in Saturday’s URC final to win a first trophy since 2011.

After their post-match winning anthem Stand Up and Fight, once initiated by their former team manager Brian O’Brien, the night’s partying continued into the morning as players danced with a local choir in Cape Town airport before the journey back to a homecoming at Thomond Park on Monday evening.

The celebrations will not stop there. Axel would have insisted.

Indeed, this victory belonged to so many, not least those players and coaches over the last dozen years. Much of the emotion at the end of a rollercoaster final to finish a rollercoaster season emanated from captain Peter O’Mahony invoking the memory of so many who have died since, be it Anthony Foley, Garrett Fitzgerald, Jerry Holland, O’Brien, Pat Geraghty, Paul Derbyshire, Tom Tierney ...


“We have lost some special people in that time,” said Graham Rowntree afterwards, describing this as the high point of his 16 years on the coaching circuit with Leicester, England, Harlequins, the Lions and Georgia.

“Pete spoke wonderfully about it at the end. This is for the people we have lost over the years. This is a special group. There are older players who have waited patiently, Peter being one of them, to win a trophy.

“I am immensely proud of this group. The whole province, the wider playing group, the people back home, the Red Army that followed us here. When we drove into the stadium, there was a Red Army waiting for us on the road outside. I am delighted for those people, we did it for them.”

Tadgh Beirne was the player of the season with the Scarlets when they beat Munster 46-22 in the 2017 final, and he sensed a similar level of momentum and belief in their away-from-home march to the title.

“It’s incredible, and it’s not about us really, it’s about the fans, it’s about everyone at home and families. We’ll enjoy it for sure but those fans have waited a long, long time. We spoke about how we’ve lost a lot of people as well within Munster, and it’s for those people as well and their families.

“It’s a special, special day for everyone, for everyone who travelled out here, which is a massive, massive amount of people, and everyone back home who’s watching from their couches and from wherever they’re watching it. This one is certainly for them.

“I would also give a massive shout out to our families who supported us through all the disappointments, and the highs and the lows over the last couple of years, and for some lads like Earlsy [Keith Earls] and Pete and Mur [Conor Murray] and whoever. It’s been longer than just my five years that I’ve been with this club. It’s been a lot longer than that.

“So, to everyone’s families, it’s also for them, and no doubt they’re absolutely delighted for us back home.”

O’Mahony played eight games during the 2010-11 campaign, while Murray and Earls played in the final against Leinster when Stephen Archer was an unused sub. The remainder have borne the weight of history, and this was an overdue first.

Jeremy Loughman was a 15-year-old spectator on that sunny day in May 2011 in Thomond Park when Munster beat Leinster in the Magners League final.

“Myself and my dad went to that game. I remember it well. I remember sitting up high in the stand across from where we run out. We actually parked the car just by the stadium. I remember everything from it. It was a memorable day.”

And it resonated even more for Loughman now.

“We’ve created some history today, and to do it away from home in tough conditions, against a really good team – they have some world-class players. Earlsy was on that [2011] team, and Mur, so to do that is special, really special. That’s the part that probably hasn’t sunk in yet. The victory is sinking in but what we did it and what it means for this club is magical.

“You can’t put it into words what that means, and what it means to us as well. We’ve been away from home for the last six weeks, and the travelling support we’ve had ... when we rolled up on the bus today and you saw everyone, and reading the things like 5,000 supporters coming over, it would give me goosebumps. It was something else to see that, that got the emotions going, and the energy we got from them.”

“It’s hard to put into words how special the supporters are to us,” added Loughman, becoming more emotional. “What they do for us, I’m struggling for words here ... it’s nice to be able to give something back to them for everything. They’ve never given up on us and always stick with us. That’s a big one for them today.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times