MUNSTER fans poured into Cardiff yesterday as the build up intensified ahead of ‘Le Crunch’ Heineken Cup final clash with Toulouse.
The supporters, some who came from as far away as Australia, hoovered up information leaflets provided by local tourist board officials and headed straight into a city centre which was bedecked with the province’s flags.
The tourist board had also printed thousands of pamphlets in French. That pile hardly was hardly touched.
Simply, the Red Army has taken over the city and the rugby-loving Welsh can’t get enough of it. It’s as though match day at Thomand Park has just been transposed to a place where they have slightly different lilts to Limerick.
A number of fans made their way to the Millennium Stadium early on, hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes as they arrived for the traditional press conference.
Dermot Collins, 15, from Baltimore, Co Cork, and his 12-year-old friend, Rory Howe, weren’t disappointed.
Captain fantastic Paul O’Connell and his Toulouse counterpart, Fabien Pelous, posed with the Heineken Cup, and lovely Miss Wales, Kelly Pesticcio.
Even though O’Connell was under pressure after the photoshoot to attend a press conference, he made time for the fans. He posed for pictures with the two youngsters and spoke with them.
“We wished him good luck. He said thanks and shook our hands. He’s our hero,” said Dermot.
It took more than 30 hours of flying for Marcus and Sharon Trant to get to the Welsh capital.
Originally from Farran, Co Cork, he’s living in Australia but always tries to get over for important clashes. He’s predicting a tight game, but with Munster victorious on a 21-15 scoreline.
Marcus’s sister, Aoife, a research chemist living in Scotland, is the one who arranges the tickets.
“I will do anything, even swap blood for tickets. I go to all of Munster’s games,” Aoife proudly proclaimed.
Declan McMahon from Garryowen is attending the game with seven pals.
However, the rest of them flew into other airports such as Bristol and Gloucester.
“It’s going to be a tough game and the battle will be won up front. Munster will shave it,” he said.
A large group of lads from Cashel, Co Tipperary proudly carried Munster flags into the city.
One of them, Noel Casey, declared that Doug Howlett would prove Munster’s match-winner.
His friend, Joe O’Grady, maintained it would be tight until the last 10 minutes and it would be decided by the backs, rather than any forward battle.
Fabian Ward, from Donegal, said while he was hoping for a win he just wanted to have a great social weekend.
Cardiff was going to be a Sister Act special for Audrey, Carmel and Olive O’Connell. Originally from Ardagh, Co Limerick, the three sisters have followed the team through thick and thin. “Since we were kids we have been going to Munster matches. It’s our fourth final and hopefully we can repeat the triumph of 2006,” said Carmel.
She believes the presence of the huge Munster contingent alone is worth five points on the day, and predicted the rest of the scores would come with tries, probably from Howlett or David Wallace.
Paul Fitzpatrick, a National Lottery representative from Midleton, Co Cork, forecast that the balls would bounce right for Munster. “I’m feeling lucky. The only Toulouse player I’m fearful of is Byron Kelleher.”
Another east Cork man, Maurice Lynch, seemed to sum up the fans’ belief that today will belong to them.
“It will be Jim Williams and Declan Kidney’s last match in charge with Munster. It will also be Anthony Foley’s last game.
“I think the whole team will raise their game because of this and we’ll win,” he said.
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