Once were war­riors

On the 40th an­niver­sary of their great­est hour ( or 80 min­utes), Alan English’s ab­sorb­ing ac­count of how Mun­ster beat the mighty All Blacks is the stuff of le­gend and true lit­er­a­ture. Donal O’Donoghue re­ports

RTÉ Guide - - Books - ( Epic by Pa­trick Ka­vanagh)

He said: I made the Iliad from such A lo­cal row. Gods make their own im­por­tance.

“I’m not sure if I should be telling you all this”, says Gin­ger McLough­lin, the hard-as-nails prop for­ward who played for Shan­non, Mun­ster and Ire­land. We’re mid­way through the sem­i­nal rugby book, Stand Up and Fight and McLough­lin is talk­ing to the au­thor, Alan English. “When this comes out, I’ll have to leave the coun­try,” he adds. But his mo­ment of doubt is brief. Even as he spills his guts, he also surely knows that his glory, to­gether with that of his fel­low Mun­ster play­ers, is guar­an­teed in sport­ing eter­nity. Stand Up and Fight, the warts and all story of how Mun­ster beat the All Blacks in Thomond Park in 1978, charts an epic match the has be­come the stuff of le­gend and myth. Long since im­mor­talised in song, on stage ( Alone It Stands) and on screen, tens of thou­sands have claimed to have wit­nessed that 12-0 white­wash (jammed to the rafters, the ground’s ca­pac­ity was 12,000). In fact, RTÉ cam­eras did not record it for pos­ter­ity (all re­sources were fo­cused on the launch of the new TV sta­tion, RTÉ 2, the same week in Cork). Only min­utes of the game was cap­tured by a lo­cal cam­era­man, but the brevity of this footage, English ar­gues, only adds to the al­lure and the le­gend.

Stand Up and Fight was first pub­lished in 2005, some 27 years af­ter that fateful day in ‘78, but it has such an im­me­di­acy that it feels like it was writ­ten in the dress­ing room. The cen­tre­piece is the match re­port it­self, first-hand re­ports from the play­ers, both vic­tors and van­quished, and of­fi­cials them­selves. This smartly edited chronol­ogy of events on the field is at times hu­mor­ous (Bren­dan Fo­ley con­tends that the only way to con­trol Gin­ger McLough­lin in the heat of a scrum was to grab him by his pri­vates, although he uses an­other word) as well as heroic – at the fi­nal whis­tle you feel as if you were in the thick of it your­self. “Their fire was up; that’s what le­gends are bloody made of,” says Mark Don­ald­son, the NZ scrumhalf on the day.

This 40th an­niver­sary edi­tion has a poignant sheen, up­dated with in­ter­views, it pays trib­ute to two of the play­ers who have since died, the great Moss Keane and the shame­fully un­der­used Colm Tucker. The play­ers also list their war wounds from play­ing in the trenches, both phys­i­cal and emo­tional. Tony Ward says how he got away al­most scot free in the phys­i­cal in­juries only for Den­ni­son to quip that Wardy never made a tackle in his life.

Timed to co­in­cide with Ire­land’s au­tumn in­ter­na­tional, which would be­come only the sec­ond time in his­tory an Ir­ish side would beat the All Blacks on home turf, it will stand for­ever as both tes­ta­ment and a work of lit­er­a­ture, one that cap­tures a mo­ment in time but also a uni­ver­sal tale as old as David and Go­liath. The All Blacks didn’t lose an­other match on that 1978 tour, claim­ing a grand slam over the ‘home na­tions’ of Ire­land, Wales, Scot­land and Eng­land as well as tak­ing down a star-laden Bar­bar­ian out­fit. But that sole loss to Mun­ster gave the Ir­ish side their own place in rugby his­tory and folk­lore. From that day on­wards, they would be known and feted as the Im­mor­tals. Stand Up and Fight is a book not just for the sports fan but for all those who love a good story thrillingly told.

 Stand Up and Fight: When Mun­ster Beat the All Blacks by Alan English (Yel­low Jer­sey Press)

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