A Munster Away Day

“IT’S YOU…YOU TWO FECKERS…IT’S YOUR FAULT…After I showed you around Dublin this morning as well, you pair of Feckers…How dare you beat us like that!”

Ben and I were sat in the quiet departure lounge at Dublin airport on Saturday evening when the voice came bellowing across from the entrance to the lounge from the security area. The guy was carrying a Munster flag, wearing a red shirt and a huge smile as he laughed the words out.

Twelve hours earlier my thirteen year old son and I had arrived in Dublin at the un-Godly hour of 7.30am, fresh from a flight out of Heathrow that had seen us scoffing breakfast at 5.00am before heading out for the Champions Cup semi-final between Munster and Saracens. It was billed as an epic encounter; and it lived up to its billing.

With plenty of time to spare before kick-off, we wanted to make sure we had our return route to the airport later in the day carefully planned out as we did not have a huge amount of wiggle time to allow for any delays to ensure that we did not miss our flight. We took the Air Coach from the airport up to the Ballsbridge Hotel, a few hundred yards from the Aviva Stadium – The plan was that this being in the opposite direction to where most people would be heading at the final whistle, we would have more chance of getting on a coach or bus quickly.

As it happens a Munster fan that had travelled over from London had the same idea, and took great pleasure in helping to show us around the area, identifying where we would go in and out of the ground, the shortest route to the coach stop and then we set off walking into the city centre, chatting all things rugby and having a few of the local sites pointed out. A cracking welcome to Dublin.

Eventually we parted ways, Ben and I heading off for a coffee and a cinnamon swirl. Tiredness was starting to kick in, and the body clock was already all over the place. It was only 9.30am, but it had been nearly five hours since we had breakfast! After a couple more stops for hot drinks and a few photo opportunities we finally decided it was time for a Guinness…Never been a drinker of the dark stuff myself, but when in Rome and all that.

Via the various posts on social media it was clear that Searson’s Bar was to be the meeting point of choice for Sarries fans and Munster fans to share a pre-match beverage or two, with a recommended meet up time of midday. Well, it was nearly 11.00am, and to me it felt more like late afternoon! Through a combination of using Google Maps, following our noses and memorising landmarks from our early morning guided tour, we set off in the direction of Searson’s.

En route we were chatting about the game ahead when another Saracens fan dashed past, hearing us talk he looked back and commented “Ah, Alan Calder…” Blimey, a bit scary this social media stuff! Soon, for the second time since arriving in Dublin only a few hours earlier we were being guided through the back streets by a relative stranger in a rugby shirt. This time the pace was a bit quicker, and the destination was more clearly defined.

Eventually we turned the corner into Upper Baggots Street, it was just before 11.30am. Outside the flags of both Munster and Saracens proudly hanged down above the doors, whilst inside you could already hear the unmistakable tones of pre-match banter.

Yet again re-iterating the difference between football and rugby, I walked into this pub with my 13 year old son with absolutely no fears what-so-ever. As soon as we got in the the door it was obvious that we were outnumbered, though as we made our way towards the back of the bar the dominant shirts did fade from red to black as the Saracens contingent were already well into the process of lubricating the tonsils.

With Ben in tow, and having already walked over 6 miles since landing on the Emerald Isle, we were really fortunate to be able to find a seat to squeeze Ben in amongst a group of Saracens fans that we recognised from various Sarries on Tour away days.  Even better, the bar had wi-fi. Ben was happy. Time for that Guinness…

…And that is the moment when all the effort started to feel worth it. A magical moment that you just want to bottle and take home with you. By now the bar was packed shoulder to shoulder with Saracens and Munster fans, The Pogues were blasting out of the speakers, I had a pint of Guinness in hand, chatting away with fellow rugby fans…Just hours away from a huge Champions Cup semi-final. The games are great, love them; but it is these moments that make the away games so bloody addictive.

To me, on the big away days there is often a moment in the build-up when I get a feeling, a sign, that the result is going to go our way. Typically it comes when everything seems so perfect that the idea of the result spoiling the day is just unimaginable. I always remember this feeling down in Weston-Super-Mare when Chesham United went down there in the FA Cup. Despite our hosts being two leagues above us, I had one of those moments. It was when about 30 of us were on a land train on the seafront, we had had a couple of beers, the sun was shining and everyone was just laughing their heads off squeezed onto this little train – There was no way Chesham United were going to lose that day. We won the match 4-2, and spent much of the first half, in which we went 3-0 up, doing the conga up and down behind the goal.

Almost regrettably, the time came when we had to leave the pub and head for the ground. Fortunately Ben has my genes (rather than his mothers) and tends to want to be early everywhere rather than late (or just on time as his mother might call it), so we were one of the first to leave the pub, and one of the first to arrive at the ground. If the game lived up the build-up, we were in for a treat – A big thank you to those that made myself, and in particular Ben, feel so welcome.

The Aviva Stadium is an impressive sight, although in reality once you get inside the concourse it is a bit of a concrete monstrosity, more of a Twickenham than a Wembley, with the identifiable exterior that looks so impressive on television being little more than plastic covering to hide the concrete – Though in fairness, it does a good job of it.

Inside there was no Guinness on sale (!) so I grabbed a quick pint of Heineken and a Diet Coke for Ben and a portion of chips each (no idea if this was lunch, tea or a third breakfast – the body clock was all over the place) and took our place in the upper tier to watch the warm-ups and prepare ourselves for the game ahead.

We knew that as Sarries fans we were going to be massively outnumbered, but I don’t think even I was prepared for the sheer scale of the Munster invasion that would take place before our eyes over the coming hour as the 50,000 green seats that filled our view very slowly turned red as the Munster fans slowly filled the space like lava creeping down the hillside. By the time kick-off arrived the inside of the stadium had turned red, and the atmosphere had reached boiling point as the near 50,000 Irish contingent noisily backed their side to pull off a result.

Credit to the Saracens fans, spread often too sporadically around the ground, we made ourselves heard, but were always going to be drowned out by the wall of sound that came from the Irish voices…In particular when they united for a completely moving version of The Fields of Atherney (have I got that song right?). Where we sat there were very small groups of Sarries fans, but there was no doubting that we felt like strangers that had gate-crashed a party.

Outnumbered or not, it didn’t stop Ben shouting and cheering as much as he ever does, and he was still more than happy to try and point out any errors the referee may have made, even if he was receiving no support from those sat around us. He just didn’t care, and even persisted in assisting Owen Farrell with his penalty kicks with his wobbling Faz Fingers pointing the ball in the direction for the posts…The young kid behind us didn’t have a clue what he was doing, and as 50,000 people in the stadium watched in silence you could hear the kid behind asking his Dad “What’s he doing? Why does he look like he is playing the piano?” Ben laughed. Ben didn’t care. Farrell’s kicks went over the post.

Despite being under the cosh for most of the first-half, Sarries went into the break 6-3 ahead. Back home Mrs C was watching and sent a text message with a sweating emoji, “it’s going to be tight”

I replied “Mmmmm…I fear the crowd may win it for them.”

Her response, as always, was very diplomatic. “Every cloud…Just think of the money you will save!”

Sometimes when you are at a match you get wrapped up in the occasion, absorbed by the intensity of the game. After the break Saracens started to dominate territory, applying the pressure and thwarting any attempt by Munster to attack with some superb defensive play. Slowly the points rattled up, a couple of tries; converted. More exquisite kicking from Farrell. In the stands the majority of the crowd were being silenced as small pockets of black would rise to their feet in celebration. The game was turning, and it is only really afterwards when you reflect on the match, and the result, that you fully appreciate quite what an awesome performance you have just witnessed.

My phone beeped. It was the wife again. “Oh well…It’s only money xx”

At 26-3 she had booked the flights for Ben and I to go to the final in Edinburgh in three weeks time. At the death Munster scored a try and it finished 26-10. Still an incredible result, particularly when you consider there were at least three tries left on the field with uncharacteristic drops or bad passes. The score could have been even greater, it really was a quite phenomenal performance by the men in black.

At the final whistle we made a swift exit to Ballsbridge Hotel where we planned to find a coach back to the airport. As we did so I spotted another father and son Saracens combination just getting into a taxi – We jumped in with them and split the cost of the fare. Ben and the young lad chatted non-stop all the way. The perfect solution for getting back to the airport in good time.

In fact, we were early in the end. No need to worry. Terminal 2 was dead, we were literally through security in seconds and soon scoffing on a Burger King in the departure lounge (Tea? Supper?). It had been another fantastic day, unbelievable memories created and an honour to be witnessing a team at such an incredible stage in their development. Simply awesome.

We chatted excitedly about going to Edinburgh, and we laughed and smiled as we reflected on the great time we had had since waking up 18 hours earlier. We sat looking at the departure board, our flight was on time. All was calm and peaceful as we waited to board…

“IT’S YOU…YOU TWO FECKERS…” Oh blimey, we had forgotten about him – What a bloody brilliant bunch the Munster  fans are!

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