It was a hid­ing in Cardiff but there’s more to sport than the re­sult

Irish Independent - Farming - - ANALYSIS - ANN FITZGER­ALD

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.


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