All the right notes hit by rugby stalwarts

The first point worth making about my trip to meet the good folk of Waterford City RFC has nothing to do with rugby and more to do with musical appreciation.

The home of William Wallace, Val Doonican and Gilbert O’Sullivan has a realistic attitude towards Ireland’s Call.

As we gathered in The Munster, a comfortable establishment on The Mall in the city, the countdown to England-Ireland almost concluded, Phil Coulter’s dirge echoed around the bar but was roundly ignored by those in attendance.

I was too busy to join in myself, certainly.

Tommy Gaule of Waterford City was putting me in the picture about the club, which goes back to 1893.

At a time when sports organisations all over the country are struggling, it was good to hear an upbeat note in the south-east.

“We’re doing grand,” he said. “Compared to where we were a few years ago, we’re flying. Back then we had just the one field but now we have two and one’s fully floodlit.

“Numbers are good — we lose a few young lads to college and going away for work, the same as every sports club, but that’s always been the case. By and large we’re doing okay.”

Plenty of those players were in attendance, easily identifiable by their short haircuts and tight T-shirts, while the committee men were marked by a more relaxed cut to their clothing (full disclosure: your correspondent had an XXL polo shirt on).

There was a child in a pram as well, who was exceptionally well behaved, and that led to an obvious question.

“Munster doing well, all of that has given us a bounce,” Gaule told me.

“The number of kids we get now is huge, and that’s down to the success at provincial and national level.

“It’s up to us to try to hold on to those kids as they get older, and that’s not always easy, but it’s better to have that headache than trying to get numbers out.

“Once you provide a good environment for the kids then the word spreads and the numbers grow and grow.”

With Ireland just avoiding the concession of an early try, the volume went up in The Munster, but it was never hard to hear the TV commentary.

There’s a difference between watching a game with a truly knowledgeable crowd and a crowd which is warming up for Pharrell Williams’ version of Happy in the hours after midnight.

For instance, the support being offered to the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney wasn’t of the random “Ref! Come on!” that you notice in the odd establishment on Liffeyside.

The Waterford lads, however, had that kind of fatalistic tone to their encouragement that’s recognisable to the genuine supporter: you’re hoping for the best but there’s a grim acceptance that all may not work out in accordance with one’s hopes.

Which is how Saturday worked out, you’ll remember. There were groans when England turned the screw but no over-reactions. Just realism.

What was interesting was the reaction viewers in the bar had when it came to certain players, as that didn’t always tally with our notion of the internationals’ hierarchy of popularity.

For instance, a non-scientific appraisal would have had Cian Healy as one of the more popular players among those watching, which surprised me.

Brian O’Driscoll was warmly applauded but not placed on a pedestal; the same for Paul O’Connell. Slavish devotion to the player in camera shot wasn’tguaranteed by province, clearly, though the next tier down in the pro game featured before I left The Munster. “What would help us hugely here would be a Munster game,” suggested Gaule.

“If you had Munster playing a game in the RaboDirect in the RSC it’d be a novelty, but it’d create a huge buzz in the city as well, the crowds would turn out, it’d be a great event.”

Going on the evidence of last Saturday afternoon, I think he’s right.


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