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Here’s a story that has particular resonance for me, as a fanatical supporter of the All Blacks rugby team but also as a huge admirer of the Munster provincial side in Ireland and their outstanding supporters.
Last year I was contacted by Limerick-based author John Garrett (below), who was writing a book (now published*) on heroic figures from the southern Irish city.
It’s called ‘Be Inspired’, sub-titled ‘Images and stories of Limerick’s true leaders’ – be they serving in the refugee camps of impoverished countries or pushing the limits in sporting disciplines or voluntary work.
John notes: “I have always been intrigued by people who have tried to make a difference and be the best they can. They all have one thing in common. They choose to respond positively. They identify the things that are important to them. They set their goals and take all the small necessary actions to ensure that the ultimate goal is achieved.
“Do they experience failure? Of course they do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. The real leader will get up, lick his or her wounds, assess what went wrong and do things differently next time. Leaders inspire others to create change.”
The foreword is by Irish sporting legend Tony Ward, in my view one of the greatest fly halfs to ever walk on (actually, make that dance) the rugby planet. He was a pivoting, pirouetting, play-making genius.
Fellow Irish ruby-playing great Mike Gibson wrote of him: “Tony Ward is the most important rugby player in Ireland. His legs are far more important to his country than even those of Marlene Dietrich were to the film industry.”
He inspired Munster to a legendary win over the All Blacks, scoring two drop goals and a conversion in an unforgettable (well no Irishman will ever let you forget it) 12-0 victory at Thomond Park on 31 October 1978. To date Munster are the only Irish team ever to beat the All Blacks.
Thirty years on, I attended a second clash between the two teams, again at Thomond Park and this time to mark the 30th anniversary of that great sporting upset.
It was a spellbinding, spine-tingling occasion. It began, famously, with four New Zealanders in the Munster team – Howlett, Tupoki, Manning and Mafi – performing their own haka to challenge that of the All Blacks. You could have powered the whole of Ireland with the electricity of the moment.
And the match. Oh what a match. Munster, raging hotter than an Aussie bush fire, hunting All Blacks like 15 rabid hounds, gave it everything and then some. In truth they deserved to repeat history.
But history’s grand prizes are as elusive as a Tony Ward side-step and sport can be profoundly cruel. And so it was when All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko (above) scored in the corner just minutes before the final whistle. It must have broken every Munster supporter’s heart. But then something extraordinary happened. This is how I described it in an article I penned the following day:
When ‘Smokin’ Joe’ scored that heart breaking, game-breaking try in the 87th minute, Stephen Donald’s resultant conversion attempt, if successful, would have put the All Blacks out of reach of defeat by an even later drop goal or penalty.
It was the most crucial of kicks. In almost any other stadium in the world, at least outside Ireland, the booing from the home supporters would have been loud, venomous and prolonged.
Yet as Donald lined up his kick the only sound in the eerily still, and yet monumentally flattened crowd was the occasional “Shhhhh” as spectators reminded their compatriots of their great yet unwritten sporting code. The kick missed – perhaps it was the silence that undid Donald on that and several other occasions during the evening.
During one of Donald’s earlier, and also crucial, kicks, the silence was broken only by the barking of a dog from outside the stadium.
That’s right – you could hear a dog barking in a backstreet of Limerick, such was the silence inside Thomond Park. You almost expected the crowd to collectively look in the direction of the dog, raise their fingers to their lips, and whisper “Shhhhh” in the direction of the hapless hound.
To my very great pride, that article was quoted by many people in Ireland, most notably by Tony Ward himself in his Christmas column in the Irish Independent that year.
Now, I am delighted to say, my report has been reproduced in full as one of the chapters in Be Inspired.
Even more pleasingly, John Garrett is splitting the proceeds of the book between two important charities. The first is The Shane Geoghegan Trust, formed in honour of a rugby player from Garryowen who was tragically murdered in a case of mistaken identity as part of a gang feud in Limerick in 2008.
The second is the Rugby World Cup Christchurch Appeal (www.rwcchristchurchappeal.com), dedicated to helping restore Christchurch’s wrecked rugby infrastructure at all levels after the devastation to the New Zealand city (my hometown) caused by the February 22, 2011 earthquake.
It’s a great book, benefiting great causes. The Moodie Report has ten copies of Be Inspired to give away to the first ten readers who can answer the following questions.
1) Who was Tony Ward’s constant rival for the Irish number 10 shirt?
2) What fourth-choice New Zealand number 10, cruelly derided by many All Blacks’ supporters as ‘Duck’ (and, appropriately, currently located in a Bath outfit), kicked a crucial penalty to help his team win the 2011 Rugby World Cup final?
Send your answers by e-mail, headed ‘Be Inspired’ to Martin@TheMoodieReport.com
* Be Inspired is published by KPM Publishing Limerick and retails at €20.00.