There are two certainties about October. I will get a flu (check) and Munster will produce at least one remarkable performance at Thomond Park. If the second half of that hadn’t been accomplished before last night, the box was well and truly ticked by the time the 80 minutes had elapsed under the Saturday night lights.
In life, certain things are non negotiable, sport is no different. For Munster, winning on or around the time of the anniversary of Anthony Foley’s death is equally not up for discussion. You’ll remember the emotionally charged occasion of the first game after his passing in 2016. A game (against Glasgow) perhaps best remembered for Keith Earls blowing a fuse and getting sent off early on.
There were no such worries on that front this time around – in fact it was a former member of the Red Army Sammy Arnold who got an unscheduled pitstop in the first half, having been adjudged, harshly in my view, to have effected a high tackle on Mike Haley shortly before the short whistle.
Not before he had given the locals a bustling reminder of what they let go when crossing for the game’s first try. Eventually though, as the always do, Munster rumbled into life and, after an inventive cross-field kick from Joey Carbery sent Andrew Conway darting away.
Thus began the first real spell of possession Johann Van Graan’s team had manufactured for themselves. At the end of which they found themselves in front after Chris Cloete went over. Though again, in the opinion of yours truly, the locals were a shade fortunate to be in front as the back row forward’s grounding of the ball was far from textbook.
A Carbery penalty bolstered the local’s cushion nine minutes into second half but the men from the west are a different animal to what they once were. Paying no heed to the preferred script, Connacht capitalised on a couple of cheap capitulations at the scrum when the burgeoning Paul Boyle muscled over.
The outstanding Jack Carty being askew with the conversion appeared to let the error-prone hosts off the hook. What nobody would have foreseen though was a moment of casual carelessness from Carbery appeared to gift the visitors consecutive conquests across the Shannon as his opposite number blocked down his lacklustre clearance kick and touched down.
Remember who you’re dealing with here however. Remind yourself of their emotive mantra – To the brave and the faithful nothing is impossible. By Jesus they don’t just preach it, they live it. Always have, always will. So it should have been no surprise to prove their motto to be on the money when, with or without a permit, they became squatters on their opponents line.
Eventually, the collective will of the players, the 17,000-plus disciples in that grand field and their great leader looking on from afar made their siege of ‘enemy’ lines pay off as the damn eventually burst. Allowing third choice hooker Diarmuid Barron announce himself on the big stage in unlikely fashion.
And so, it came down to Carbery. On more than one occasion, whether the Athy man is quite as good as his billing has been pondered in this seat. Something accentuated by inclinations held by sources in the Leinster camp that the boys in blue didn’t really rate him as a fly half. Which would tally with him playing most of his rugby with his native province at full back. Not to mention the luxurious depth of talent possessed by Leo Cullen et al for the 10 slot.
None of that mattered a jot on this night of all nights. The occasion, and the warrior whom it honoured got the conclusion it deserved when the New Zealand-born utility back’s kick split the posts as he and his colleagues made the impossible possible yet again. Now, as the Axel who drove their machine forward for so long would’ve done, they need to pick (up) and drive (on).