As you get older, naturally the number of significant happenings easily recalled grows. In one sense at least. A year can make an awful difference too. For example, exceptional clarity remains pertaining to Meath’s annexation of the #SamMaguire Cup in 1987. Contrast that with the reality that all that can be remembered of the breakthrough #Leinster success of the previous is the foul nature of the weather.
Now go back even further. Within the GAA, it’s not stretching things to suggest the county’s conquest of Dublin in the 1975 National League final – which was before my time – was on a par with the mesmerised bewilderment which prevailed after Japan stunned South Africa in the opening round of the most recent World Cup in rugby.
That Louth accosted Mick O’Brien’s side and eviscerated the life from their championship campaign a mere week later was, in ways, not the biggest talking point of that year. Beating Dublin was. Heffo’s Dublin. Whenever the great old rivals collide, it maintains a relevance that overrides circumstance. For the victor, it carries an even more weighty credence.
Replace Meath and Dublin with Leinster and Munster and you have a similarly seminal situation pertaining to Irish rugby. Now, over the Christmas period, a piece appeared somewhere online chronicling what were depicted as some of Ireland’s least heralded noteworthy sporting triumphs.
Ensconced in the collection is Ulster’s capture of European rugby’s top gong in 1999. It’s one of those odd curiosities that, for whatever reason, the not inconsiderable achievement of David Humphreys, Jonny Bell et al never appeared to command the same affection – perhaps respect – compared to other glorious transpirations that it ought to.
If the fortunes of Meath football are – rightly or wrongly – measured by how they are fairing against Dublin at a given time, equally, the oscillating prosperity or otherwise of Leinster and Munster is often seen as the best barometer of the state of health regarding the national team. Though, currently anyway, confining such calculations to those terms of reference may not present an accurate reflection as currently – relatively speaking – the other two provinces appear in better shape.
But here’s another Meath-Dublin parallel. When the red and the blue of Irish rugby collide, the form book can go in the furnace. These matches take on a life of their own. And even with things at unfamiliarly and worryingly low ebbs for both, the biggest talking points from their latest rendezvous were in the subplots.
Once Jonny Sexton came home, the picture had to alter for Ian Madigan. Strip away his adaptability and it still amounted to home going down the pecking order. Rob Kearney isn’t going to be dislodged from full back and with Robbie Henshaw seemingly en route and the rapidly emerging Garry Ringrose already in situ, his wriggle room appeared limited.
Thus, the almost inevitable ‘Madigan to Munster’ clamour began. The addendum to such an idea being that Ian Keatley would then move on to Connacht. The treatment meted out to the latter recently by some Munster ‘supporters’ was utterly inexcusable. Yet the attractiveness for a beleaguered Anthony Foley in getting Madigan would be undeniable.
Furthermore, whilst in times past, for example, the mere thought of, say, a Manchester United player affiliating with Liverpool wouldn’t be countenanced, in a world where commercialism trumps loyalty nearly every time, any such impediments are obliterated. In fact, transfer traffic between Leinster and Munster is nothing new. Meath’s Niall Ronan was among those who successfully represented both ‘clubs’.
Andrew Conway being the latest. Truth be told, his continually growing influence down Shannon side has been one of the few bright spots as fortress Thomond has disintegrated into a pick n mix where other teams have been growing increasingly fond of and proficient in helping themselves to whatever spoils are on offer.
And the last point is particularly seminal, because, while both teams have been entangled in runs of uncharacteristically bad form this season, when they encounter one another, normal context can be dispensed with as clashes of the two are an entity unto themselves. A cursory glance might have said the outcome was of little benefit to either this time round. But that’s not so.
There’s always something. One couldn’t help feeling that the playing futures of certain individual could have been swayed by the outcomes of the December 27th event. Not only in terms of who won, but, also, how things appeared in terms of the prospects for the two teams going forward.
Well, worryingly for the prospects of Irish rugby looking ahead, it would appear that Leinster’s comprehensive success has been impactful. So much so that Madigan was suitably dissuaded from crossing lines of parochial rivalry, opting instead to decamp to Bordeaux in France.
Madigan’s abdication is no surprise, nor is it objectionable. Once Sexton returned, the other fly half was always likely to need new employers. Following on from the likes of James Coughlin and, not so long ago, JJ Hanrahan, does the latest sporting emigration not pose a worrying question is to where things are headed in certain places?