As I have mentioned, Sean loved the Munster rugby team with a passion. He understood instinctively what they represented and embodied. When he was 12 or so, before a particularly difficult match, he said to me ‘I believe in Munster’.
Munster repaid this belief by qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals 12 times in a row, reaching the semi-finals and final numerous times and winning the competition twice, despite being pitted against French and English clubs with far greater resources and bigger names.
Very often Munster were drawn in the same group as the form English team of the time. In several seasons they played the away match first, and lost. The English team in question would then come to Limerick confidently expecting to emerge victorious and end Munster’s great home record. Instead, they would be thoroughly smashed.
In January 2003, Munster needed to beat Gloucester by 27 points and score four tries; otherwise Gloucester would go through and Munster would be out of the competition. Gloucester were leading the English Premiership at the time, and such a result seemed out of the question, yet Munster won 33–6, scoring their fourth try in the last minute. As Rupert Bates wrote in the Telegraph, Gloucester were simply blown out of the Heineken Cup by a force of rugby nature.
Munster did eventually lose a Heineken Cup match in Limerick (to Leicester, in January 2007), but they qualified for the quarter-finals anyway, so it didn’t really matter. That remains their only home defeat in Europe.
The clip below shows one of Sean’s favourite rugby moments … it made me cry when I watched it this morning because it encapsulates so much, and there is such emotion associated with it.
Sale, as per the classic script, were the form English team, had already beaten Munster at home, and arrived in Limerick expecting to put the Irish province in its place. Their ‘talisman’ was the hirsute French giant Sebastian Chabal. Before too long Chabal caught the ball and found himself propelled backwards at top speed … Munster scored their first try a couple of minutes later, and went on to win 31–9.
Yet another great day for Munster. How we loved it!