Munster The Overdogs
Generally, in dear little old Erin - Ma bhrón! Ma bhrón! - we have been culturally habituated to the role of the underdog. Frankly, it's no surprise, given the rarity of occasions on which we can truly be the overdog.
That Eurovision spell in the 1990s perhaps - man, were we cocky then?! Or at the annual World Stout Brewing Championships - I bet the Irish team strut arrogantly about the place at those, laughing in the faces of their bland, watery porter-producing rivals.
But generally, in most sporting circumstances, we are the hapless minnows, the ill-equipped, technically gauche bottom-feeders. The newspaper report will usually read "while the Americans and the Chinese battled it out for dominance, it was a disappointing day for the Irish team of Seamus O'Mara and Cormac Prendergast. A poor performance in the artistic impression category left them in 17th."
In our silk-purse-from-a-pig's-ear way, we make the best of this, trumpeting the occasions on which we overturn the odds, inflating them to the size of a normal culture of sporting excellence, blotting out the vast, arid plains of underachievement.
Every now and then, however, Irish sports teams or individuals throw off the dowdy cardigans of low expectation, and zip up the rhinestone-studded, caped jumpsuit of superstardom: Ronnie Delaney, Roy Keane, Sonia, O'Driscoll, Harrington.
Making this leap is not merely a case of being good at running, or kicking stuff, or hitting things with sticks. These people grew up around the rest of us, yet never got infected by our belching pub tales of shooting at the Brits from behind bushes, or a little Scottish man heading the ball into an English net, or the odd, random Triple Crown amid years of brutal pummelings. Somehow, some crazy way, they went out into the world, and the world backed off.
Which brings us to Munster. Two tries down at half time, half-way to a result that would all but end their Heineken Cup campaign, even the most loyal son of Thomond would have viewed the second half fretfully. How difficult it is to halt the tide away from home, especially against an expensively-assembled, physically powerfully French team.
But that's what Munster did: not only denying Clermont a bonus point, but sneaking one themselves. What a precious thing that point is. Think of Indiana Jones, grabbing the gold idol at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark, legging it past poisoned darts and boulders, finally making it to the biplane as spears fly hither and thither. Indy lost the idol though - Munster held onto theirs.
What this has to do with underdogs and overdogs and looking the world in the eye is this: at some point, Clermont must have suffered a crisis of confidence; small imperceptible doubts in a number of individuals, perhaps, but fatal when multiplied throughout a team. Perhaps it caused them to yield to the pressure that ultimately cost them three yellow cards.
And behind this buckling of the hitherto unstoppable Clermont momentum, responsible for the flickering doubts in previously rampaging players, must surely have been the realisation that this was Munster. Twelve seasons of hard-won respect, numerous legendary feats of courage, countless battles, immeasurable hours of unyielding, sinew-straining effort, numberless last-ditch tackles, multitudinous strength-sapping mauls: all this adds up.
And when Munster go out into the world, the world, very often, backs off.