OME YEARS ago now, my friends and I were in a taxi tearing through the Limerick night. Our driver, a chatty, red-faced fella, was talking about how close-knit his community was. “Hey, I even pick up and drop off Paul O’Connell all the time,” he bragged.
Hold on. We stopped yammering to pick up the name he had just dropped. Then we pleaded. We liberally sprinkled our next questions with “please”. We asked to see where he lived – was it nice? Overwhelmed and perhaps a little confused by us, the driver blurted:
“Oh, you can’t wake the Big Man!”
It was an incident I had thought little about until, on the day that Munster host Glasgow in the Guinness Pro14, some of their hardy supporters cheerily involve us in a chat about their ‘family’ from their patch on the West Terrace – and believe me, capitals are needed for this title – at Thomond Park.
Standing at the rail are Imelda O’Grady, Joan O’Dwyer and Paschal Sage. Just
Sseconds ago they were talking to a few injured and uninvolved players as if they were old chums. Now they explain to us why that is possible.
“The lads finish the match, they wait at the centre of the pitch and they always come over to us,” says an animated O’Grady. “They are all giving back to the fans. They are clapping us just as much as we are clapping them.
“We are here all the time. As soon as the gates open to the ground. An hour and a half, two hours before the match.”
O’Dwyer jumps in: “And we know everybody here, in every position on the terrace, from here right along to over there. We know them personally.
“And we’re all from different parts. We’re from Cork. There’s Limerick, Paschal is from Shannon, and normally we have two from Waterford. Then there’s Kerry, East Clare… some supporters even come from Dublin!”
The wee group here are members of the supporters’ club, which they say is around 12,000 strong. Sage
Dive pass Keith Earls With match mascots Skipper Peter O’Mahony Man of the Match Nine Alby MathewsonLimerick or Cork. Forget the five-line poem or stopper in your bottle. We were in Limerick, the fourth-largest city on the island.It’s all the rage in red round here. Shirts, shorts, socks – the lot. But they have been known to rock a moody, greyish-blue-y or sky-blue alternative kit.Thomond is atmospheric but they play at Irish Independent Park in Cork too. Either way, fans singPaul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara, Anthony Foley – there are loads from the pro era before we even look back.