Twelve thousand miles from home, some rivalries still bubble

One of the downsides of all these evening kick-offs is that it’s well past midnight before you shut down the laptop.

Couple that with a series of early morning flights and this trip has all the ingredients of an old fashioned rugby tour.

In those days returning to the team hotel after the midnight hour was a given, having availed of the local hospitality and post-match festivities. We didn’t have to worry about camera phones, twitter or social media and in most instances the press were actually in tandem and out with us. The modern player has no resting place or sanctuary outside his hotel room nowadays. Not on a trip like this anyway.

For some ridiculous reason on the old amateur treks, the team always seemed to travel on the first flight out of dodge. Not anymore, as the squad have either a chartered flight or, at worst, will travel in the late afternoon at a time of their own choosing.

My itinerary must have been designed by some dinosaur who seems to think I’m at my best getting up at six in the morning after minimal sleep. At least I wasn’t on my own when arriving at Brisbane Airport at an ungodly hour last Sunday for my flight to Melbourne when the entire building was taken over by an invasion of Lions supporters.

Brilliant as they are in support of the team and once again they added magnificently to the colour and pageantry of the occasion at the Suncorp Stadium, that incessant chant of Lions, Lions (repeat to fade...) does your head in after a while. Enjoying a meal outdoors on Queens Street Mall on Friday night, the chant had the locals seeking counselling by midnight.

The sighting of the Ospreys pair, Adam Jones and Richard Hibbard, strolling incognito to their adjacent hotel at around 11pm didn’t fool the Red Army and drove them into a frenzy, with hundreds of fans pointing in their direction roaring.... LIONS (repeat to fade). It was about the only time on tour that pair looked in any way intimidated. The fact that quite a few of those fans were septuagenarian couples makes you wonder what it is about the Lions that attracts such a frenzied and committed following.

Even at the airport, the locals look on in amazement. For a country besotted with sport and spoiled by a choice of five different professional codes, they just can’t seem to come to terms with volume of people committed to the Lions cause.

The excellent Quantas staff deal with a happy mix of kids, parents and grandparents, all decked out in a variety of Lions jersies and track suits, dutifully queueing up in good natured fashion to board yet another early morning flight without a hint of frustration or trouble.

That is a tribute to the ground staff and security personnel in all of the Australian airports who have continuously displayed a refreshing capacity to shift huge numbers of people quickly and with the minimum of fuss. They have been absolutely brilliant.

With two games in Melbourne this week at least we got the chance to take clothes out of the suitcase and give them an airing. Seven different airports in twelve days isn’t great fun but at least we have the chance to set down some roots this week.

Important too to keep in touch with the things that really matter back home, like the text I woke up to last Monday morning Cork are back: 0-23 to 0-15 victors and well deserved.

Delighted for JBM and his young side.

Certain sporting rivalries travel the world and while four countries appear to be able to unite without a hint of animosity in the name of the Lions, funny how the only hint of an argument over rugby I have come across so far revolved around Munster and Leinster. Meeting people the other night at a bar on Little Collins Street, I was approached by, of all people, Moss Keane’s nephew who has been working out here for the last 18 months.

I was delighted to report I had met many of his family at the recent memorial charity golf outing for my late, great second row partner at the K Club. He didn’t need to be updated as his brother, cousins, aunts and uncles were all in attendance late into the night. He had been fully briefed.

Given the Lions theme, he was keen to hear of Mossie’s exploits on tour after reading a few stories about his antics on the 1977 tour to New Zealand. I don’t think he even realised what a special character and person his famous uncle was.

As the night wore on a few of the Leinster faithful got in a tizzy about the fact that so many Munster followers turn up supporting the Lions wearing their Munster jersey. My attempt in justifying their stance on the basis of the cost of a Lions jersey, the fact that they are both red and are emblazoned with the trade mark Adidas three stripes was, of course, interpreted as typical Munster bias.

Recognising the signals, I have become quite adept over the years at extricating myself before getting too involved. To think we are over 12,000 miles from home. Then again I suppose we have to recognise that such rivalry is an integral part of all sports. Without that bit of passion and sporting allegiances, be it rugby, soccer or GAA, our emigrants would have even less to cling to so far from home. Everything in its place.

As for Melbourne, the only sport that matters here is Aussie Rules, and the Lions supporters could even outnumber their Wallaby rivals at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday with a discernible ambivalence to rugby in this city and the sizeable emigrant population from the UK and Ireland snapping up all the available tickets.

If the Lions manage to wrap up the series here on Saturday night, Melbourne will go wild with even Munster-Leinster hostilities set aside for an evening. Now that really shows the power of the Lions.

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