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
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)