It was a hiding in Cardiff but there’s more to sport than the result
WE have been hearing a lot recently about the impact of stress on farmers and I often think that an occasional bit of madness can help to keep us sane.
And so, in the past year, I have fallen in with a bunch of Leinster-based Munster Rugby supporters. They travel to all the home matches and some of the away ones, participating in a bit of harmless messing along the way.
Everyone in the group has a moniker. These include: ‘The Beardy Boss’, ‘Drop-out Mary’, ‘Angus No-wallet’, ‘Phone-notworking’, and ‘Papa Smurf’.
And then there’s the ubiquitous WhatsApp group, which we use to circulate silly YouTube videos and yarns, including what the Beardy Boss describes as “the dirtiest clean joke ever”.
Last Friday week, my alarm went off at 4.45am. At 5.30am I was at the Newpark hotel in Kilkenny, where I was picked up by the Beardy Boss in his eightseater, which already contained three tweens.
On we went to the ferry in Rosslare, picking up three more of our group on the way. We were heading to see Munster play Cardiff Blues in Wales.
As to their affiliation to Munster when clearly not from that area of the country, the Beardy Boss explains: “Just because you’re born at sea doesn’t mean you’re a fish.”
The ferry departed after a 90-minute delay due to high winds. There were a few other Munster jerseys to be seen and we got talking to a couple of them. They turned out to the parents of 20-year-old Diarmuid Barron from Cashel, an academy player who later earned his first senior cap.
The rest of the crossing to Pembroke was unremarkable, as was the 2 hour drive to Cardiff, except for a steady stream of banter and slagging.
It might seem strange for a travelling group of Irish people, but there is little if any alcohol involved, and the craic is driven by the camaraderie of being with straight-up people, with a common interest and a fun, positive, outlook on life.
If I was ever in trouble, I’d want them in my corner.
After parking, we headed for grub, then on to the match.
There is no other way to say this, as they would in the best Westerns, it was a “mass-acree”. We were beaten 37-13. It was no consolation that I had been saying all week, “they need it more than us” (after narrowly losing their first three matches of the season).
On the pitch afterwards, we bumped into Diarmuid Barron and his family. It was still a proud day for them, though obviously not the one they would have hoped for.
We had plenty of time before getting the ferry back that night (2.45am) and so waited to meet the team.
I always feel that supporting a team is like a marriage, that you are there through thick and thin.
The players were devastated. Most stopped for a word and to shake hands. Several thanked us for coming to support them.
It’s easy to say the right thing when an individual or team wins, “well done”, “congrats” or “ye were brilliant”.
It’s harder to say the right thing in a loss.
Criticism is no good: “ye were brutal” or “be a man, get over it”. But, pity is not much better: “hard luck” or “the ref was biased.” They feel lousy and nothing can change that.
Being a professional sportsperson is hard. The losers of a match have usually put in as much effort as the winners.
It’s easier said than done, but the best way forward from a defeat is to learn everything you can from it and then move on.
Afterwards, the atmosphere was subdued and most of us slept, fitfully, in the car and on the ferry. But it picked up again and, by the time we were disembarking at 7am, the next trip was already being planned.
Back home by 9.30am, I showered and headed to bed for a couple of hours. I was so tired that I slept like a baby. It was a memorable day-and-a-bit. And we won the next game 64-7.
IT’S EASIER SAID THAN DONE, BUT THE BEST WAY FORWARD FROM A DEFEAT IS TO LEARN WHAT YOU CAN AND MOVE ON