Red Army of Munster marches on in pursuit of dream

They came, they saw a sea of red — and were duly conquered.

Red Army of Munster marches on in pursuit of dream

For the 3,000 Toulouse fans who had made the trip to Limerick, Saturday’s annihilation at the hands of a rampant Munster killed off any hopes of a fifth Heineken Cup title.

For the Red Army, though, the dream of a third is very much alive.

The Munster rugby diaspora converged on Limerick from the deep south and the far north for another memorable occasion.

Jayne and Kevin Dinan travelled from Skibbereen, Co Cork, to meet up with friend Sean Dillon, who left his home in Magherafelt in Derry at around 6am.

As they savoured the pre-match atmosphere in the historic JJ Bowles pub, Jayne said: “We have been meeting up with Sean and his friends from the North for years at Munster games all over Europe.”

In the bar snug, Michael O’Mahoney from Carrig-twohill, Co Cork, and Jim Dillon from Ballincollig, Co Cork, were in deep rugby talk with Toulouse fan Sylvain Espiau. Michael and Jim criss-cross the country every day, driving trucks for Musgrave.

But they have one common regular destination. “We never miss a Munster game,” Michael said. And they had more to talk about than rugby, as it transpired, with their new friend. “It turned out Sylvain is a sales manager for a big supermarket chain in France and we work for Musgraves,” said Michael.

Ray O’Callaghan, the manager at JJ Bowles, said they were relieved to be able to open for the game.

“We were hit by the floods. It came in the front door and out the back. But we had a big clean-up.”

Thomond Park boasts one of the finest stadium viewing areas for people on wheelchairs, located on the same level where TV commentators work from.

Eileen Bourke from Downey St, Killalee, Limerick City, has used a wheelchair for 10 years and said: “We have a great view, it is brilliant and all the facilities such as toilets are excellent.”

Michelle MacSweeney, from Clonmacken, who suffers from spina bifida, proudly showed off her wheelchair covers, which have been autographed by Munster players over the years.

“A group of the players including Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, and a few more turned up for my 30th birthday party recently at the Strand Hotel,” she said.

“It was fantastic and they gave me a present of a signed jersey.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny took in the match during a canvass with two Fine Gael hopefuls for the European elections, Seán Kelly and Deirdre Clune.

As he spoke to party workers at a rally in the Strand Hotel, one of two black Mercedes parked at the hotel’s entrance displayed a Padre Pio windscreen sticker.

“I don’t think that’s the Taoiseach’s car. Things might be tough for us at present, but he hasn’t started to implore Padre Pio,” remarked one of the Fine Gael faithful.

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