Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

TSA - I am disappointed your enforced absenteeism over the last few months has resulted in this dewey eyed nonsense - for a blog whose balanced, critical if sometimes hyperbolic view on sport I respect, this is pure prattle.

Let's look at the facts - munster were 20 points down at half time to the third best team in the group in a game which they knew if they could win would virtually guarantee them pasage through to the quarters.

Complacency at best is to way to describe it.

And why do Munster of all European teams have the monopoly on sinew straining, legendary acts? Again lets be honest, they get themselves into holes and then are quite good at dragging themselves out.

If anything Munster represent still the hesitant, inferior-complex old Ireland you describe. the sort that speak of character and pyrrhic victories. And in this case one meaningful victory last May since the competition's inception.

2:56 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Anonymous (booooo, show your face masked chucker of rotten tomatoes!), I share the feeling that the sort of hagiographic spew that Munster are generally anointed with can be a little rich for some palates.

But to denigrate Munster's invaluable bonus point from Sunday is totally unfair. They certainly looked for much of the first half like a team that hadn't had a meaningful game of rugby for a month or so, enough time to allow the runners up in the French championship and owners of one of rugby's heftiest chequebooks to put the serious squeeze on them.

How often have we seen teams - very good teams - go two tries down away from home, allow their heads to drop and ultimately scuttle home with their tails between their legs?

The Munster camp weren't looking for praise after the game; they were disgusted, as you say, that they'd allowed themselves to get into that hole in the first place.

But those of us on the outside must surely acknowledge that not to capitulate in the circumstances is the mark of genuine winners.

7:13 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot the Leinster fan!

11:27 p.m.  
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