According to the amazingly funny comedian and social observer Louis CK
“the two most boring things to me are civic pride and civic rivalry”.
In a kinda snobbish way, I would tend to agree with this view – except for yesterday when my adoptive province of Connacht took on the mighty Leinster at Murrayfield in the historical city of Edinburgh.
Despite the fact that transport and accommodation were at a premium in the city (the Edinburgh city marathon was also on this weekend), the sea of green in the stadium proves that
both hell and high water can be overcome when your team needs your support.
So my normally cosmopolitan, higher-plane, we-are-all-equal world attitude was out the window and I happily spent the game shouting “COME ON CONNACHT!!” til my voice was hoarse.
John Muldoon’s men have had an unbelievable season under the coachmanship of the self-belief-instilling Pat Lam, winning 15 out of 16 home games, an awesome achievement. Who could have believed that an underfunded and underdogged rugby team from the wind-torn West of Ireland, who late last year were almost unable to field a full match-day squad due to injuries, would be deserved Guinness Pro 12 finalists on a sundrenched Saturday in Scotland.
Apart from the die-hard supporters who have spent many Novembers in the Sports Ground, watching their team through wind-driven shards of rain while wearing double-socks, and seeing them regularly beaten, I would say not many.
Connacht have a pretty long history of being poor cousins to the other Irish provinces. Many players cut their teeth at the Galway-based team, only to be poached by Leinster, Munster or Ulster when they saw something special. So in many ways it would have seemed almost impossible for them to have progressed as they have within this IRFU structure.
An interesting story I heard yesterday is that Connacht rugby was almost disbanded in 2003. A 2,000 strong crowd of loyal supporters marched on the IRFU offices in Dublin and Danno Heaslip, a huge supporter of Connacht rugby, delivered their letter of protest. Thankfully, the IRFU backed down.
That was Connacht – always fighting against the odds…
And yesterday, this amazing campaign culminated in facing finalists Leinster, who they had already beaten on their stampede through this Championship. And to add a frisson of tension to an already tetchy affair, Leinster will also be claiming Connacht’s no. 13 next season; so the game was set to be full of heightened emotions.
I watched the match in a sunny Portugal, in the open-topped Erin’s Isle pub in Albufeira. A stereotypical Paddy on Tour who can’t bear the passage of a holiday without the need to feel the home-away-from-homeliness of an Irish pub “out foreign”. But again, for the day that was in it, my cosmopolitan nature was overridden and I happily had a beer and earwigged on other Paddys pre-analyse the game. This Is Holidays!!
I won’t even attempt to give an analysis of the game. There are plenty of seasoned sports journalists who will do an amazing job of this in the coming days and weeks, and I’m looking forward to reading them. It really was a dream game though, with Connacht taking an early lead and seeming to dominate throughout most of the 80 minutes.
At times, the cheers of “Connacht…Connacht…Connacht” throughout Murrayfield made it sound like a home final for the team in green, and I imagine that most neutrals in the stadium were supporting them.
And when the Connacht lads started to celebrate with 10 points ahead and still a minute on the clock, you felt that they were confident that their lead was guaranteed (although early celebrations often make me nervous).
But they were right – and as Nigel Owens blew the whistle for full time, we were jumping around like lunatics – hugging strangers and getting teary-eyed in the way you only can at an amazing feat of human achievement and overcoming the odds.
I reckon there’s a Hollywood movie in the offing after this dramatic coup by the western men. Whoever the actors are, they will have massive boots to fill – both literally, and figuratively…
Now who can I talk to to organise twinning Connacht and Leicester?