They say on the Semple Stadium turf you’re never a boy. Always a giant. So too perhaps in Thomond Park.
On that particular piece of acreage in that particular corner of the province, it’s never a friendly. Always a battle.
But maybe not on Tuesday night. If the Munster crowd are famed for putting in as much as a shift as their famous front row, on this occasion they were off the clock.
The Shane Geoghegan Trust had brought the Premier League glitz of Sunderland to take on a selection from the region. The china was laid out. The best wine served first. Limerick was impressive.
Reds flanker David Wallace patrolled one corner of the pitch that was coned off for a mini rugby game between kids before the kick off. Nearby a little, thunder-and-lightning hurling tie was engrossing another section of the west stand.
When the players were sufficiently warm, I sat in the west stand of Thomond Park, watching Andy Reid feel his way into the first 45 minutes of his season – after a long interruption to his career with injury – I was reminded of that Billy Crystal film Mr Saturday Night. The movie depicts a New York stand-up comedian’s rise to giddy fame – from working the clubs to TV stardom – until he shrugs on the cloak of comedy royalty.
Early in the film a lovely montage shows Crystal and his brother stand in front of the fireplace cracking wise, sharing gags and performing little histrionic sketches while the extended family on the couch roar their approval. Salty tears of laughter stain the living room carpet and peals of laughter fill the street outside.
Years later, when Crystal’s character is standing side-stage before another mega-watt weekend performance in front of a loyal and large audience, his now bitter brother – after backing out of a comedy club gig with his sibling years earlier due to nerves – grabs the star by the lapels and spits: this could’ve been me.
His brother’s response is cool: “You were funny, but you were sitting-room funny.”
Maybe Andy Reid is like that. He oozes class in the centre of the Limerick city turf. He drops back in front of Anton Ferdinand, demanding the ball, turns balletically after he receives it and toes it a foot in front of him before spraying a truly-struck pass 40 yards into the path of his winger. The kid is good. But is he big-time good?
He’s always been one of my favourites. When he was younger you could’ve taken his future to the bank. As a Nottingham Forest lad, settled in after a move from Cherry Orchard, he was a City Ground favourite.
I was at a live Last Word preview night of the Munster final in The Groves of Blackpool, in Cork last Friday night. It descended very quickly into arch parochialism; like when one attendee addressed the panel of Donal O’Grady, John Allen, Joe Deane and Dave Bennett thus: ‘Matt, can I ask you why you have two southsiders on your panel and no one from the northside? But before Leeside’s hurling fraternity cannibalised itself live on national radio in a haze of Glen Rovers/Na Piarsiagh needling, the room was almost united in criticism of some perceived slight a Kilkenny legend had inflicted on Cork’s players last season. One man took the mic with purpose and said: “Matt, will you tell Eddie Keher that, when he comes down here, he better check his change at the bar – because he might get an All-Ireland medal instead of a euro by mistake, there’s so many around.”
So too in Nottingham, a medium-sized provincial town — where they were used to walking into Brian Clough’s brother’s suburban newsagents and seeing Ol Big Head behind the till selling the local paper and the European Cup trophy on the counter. This town knows its footballers; and Reid was voted a Forest legend.
From there he went to Spurs, a sophisticated London club with a penchant for Hoddles and Gazzas. But as the writer Cyril Connolley said: whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.
After a detour to Charlton, he’s now well-established in the north-east. He pulled back the curtain this time last year and re-introduced himself after a concerted fitness programme. Now after coming back from a long lay-off he looks more Weight Watchers than weighted pass, again. But he still has it.
During RTÉ’s World Cup coverage he appeared on one Aprés Match sketch, as ‘Brian Kerr’ tried to recruit the exiled Irish star for the Faroe Islands. “Would you be interested in coming to play up in the Fairies? You’re guaranteed your place, we’ve only got eight full-time players and three fish,” Kerr says.
After the game in the press conference room under the east stand, a 2-1 win in the bag, Steve Bruce sat back and blew his cheeks out when asked for the umpteenth time about Reid’s continued exclusion from the Ireland set-up. “I don’t think it’s going to happen, do you?” he sighed.
No, probably not. But he deserves the chance to prove he’s Mr Wednesday night for Ireland, one more time.
Adrian.firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adrianrussell
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