By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — For Munster, Saturday is the end of an era and they plan to go out with a bang. Ireland’s leading rugby province take on reigning champions Leicester of England in the European Cup final in a game that will spawn several emotional farewells.
Out goes legendary prop Peter Clohessy, captain Mick Galwey and the team’s two coaches, Declan Kidney and Niall O’Donovan. Seasons of success will come to a close at the final whistle — success, yet Munster are still in pursuit of their Holy Grail.
The European Cup remains the elusive prize. They came so close, losing agonizingly, 9-8, to Northampton in 2000, but that day they were strong favorites. Against Leicester, widely regarded as the best team in Europe, they go into the decider at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as the underdogs.
That is certainly an advantage, and with Leicester struggling to find their best form at the end of an arduous season, there is quiet confidence in the Munster ranks.
“It’s all a bit different to two years ago,” said Ronan O’Gara, who missed a penalty in the closing minutes that would have won the cup.
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Back then it was the be-all and end-all, but we’ve learned something since then. It’s just 80 minutes and you can waste so much energy in the build-up to the game. There’s a 50 percent chance you’ll lose, that’s the harsh reality, but there’s no point dwelling on it beforehand.”
Galvanized by two superb wins, in the quarterfinal and semifinal against Stade Francais and Castres, respectively, Munster won’t in the slightest bit fazed by Leicester’s reputation. They have injury worries over second row Paul O’Connell, No. 8 Anthony Foley and wing Anthony Horgan, with Foley the most doubtful due to a damaged shoulder.
With Clohessy and Galwey standing down, and with Kidney and O’Donovan moving to the national squad, there is no shortage of motivation. There will be 40,000 supporters in Cardiff cheering Munster on, and most were there to experience the disappointment two years ago.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice.