The Random House Dictionary of the English Language – unabridged.
Sacrilege, it says: 1. the violation or profanation of anything sacred or anything held sacred. 2. the stealing of anything consecrated to the service of God.
Okay, maybe 2 above is stretching things a bit, even if there is solid substance to the argument that Munster rugby is consecrated, and is in the service of God. But let’s take the first definition: “The violation or profanation of anything sacred or anything held sacred.”
What is Thomond Park if not sacred? Let’s go again to the dictionary, and we’ll stick with Oxford this time. Sacred: consecrated or esteemed dear to deity; dedicated or appropriated to some person or purpose; hallowed by religious association; inviolable, sacrosanct.
I ask you, what criterion from the above definitions does Thomond Park NOT meet? To those of us who are religious in our approach to rugby, to Munster rugby particularly, Thomond Park is consecrated ground, hallowed ground, should be inviolable, sacrosanct. Munster rugby has two homes, this is true, and Musgrave Park is often unfairly overlooked when Munster rugby is being discussed. I don’t make that mistake, not now, not ever. To recognise the mystical value of Thomond Park, however, is not to slight either Musgrave Park or Cork.
From Pole to Pole, wherever rugby is played, Thomond Park is known, is recognised, is valued, is appreciated. Here at home, however, here where it all really matters, Thomond Park isn’t just known, it’s revered.
Thomond Park has mystique, it has an aura all its own. It touches the Munster players in ways they cannot describe, it touches the fans likewise. It makes those players bigger, stronger, faster, it gives them power they never thought they had, but, conversely, it reduces the opposition, stifles them, handcuffs them, weakens them. How else to describe the concussive hit by little Seamus Dennison on Stu Wilson, in 1978? How else to describe the fact that, for the only time in that all-conquering tour, the All-Blacks were held scoreless? How else to describe all the massive Heineken Cup wins, the Miracle Match win over Gloucester, the demolition of Bath, the last-death win over Saracens, all games in which the Munster players were giants, the opposition reduced to ghostly imitations of themselves?
On an ordinary day, Thomond Park is nothing more or less than any other small stadium in any other sport in any other city, but, on those big days, on the afternoons and evenings we all know so well, it takes on a life of its own. It’s not anything anyone has ever managed to properly describe, but as kick-off approaches, as the atmosphere builds, as the tension mounts, as that moment comes when the captain leads out the men in red to an explosion of emotion, we can all feel it. Player and fan, Munster and visitor, it touches us all. It’s called soul, my friends, it’s what gives life, it’s what makes it all sacred. When you sell that name, Thomond Park, you sell its soul. What price?