Munster’s heroes

On the brink of sealing a memorable season for the Red Army, Munster stars, new and more familiar, line out to compete for a prestigious award, four players have been short-listed for the prestigious Munster Player of the Year Award to take place in May, writes Edward Newman.

FOUR players who have played major roles in bringing Munster to their 10th Heineken Cup semi-final are included on the shortlist for the Irish Examiner-sponsored Munster Player of the Year Award.

Lifeimi Mafi, Mick O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and Alan Quinlan were chosen by their fellow players on the Munster team, and the outright winner will be announced at the Munster Rugby Awards at a gala function in the Silversprings Hotel, Cork on May 10.

The four nominations will be voted for by the readers of the Irish Examiner in a public vote. The winner of this award is then chosen by the Munster Rugby Awards panel of judges, with the Irish Examiner reader’s votes taken into consideration. The winner of last year’s award was the hugely popular John Hayes.

New Zealander Lifeimi Mafi has become a mainstay in the Munster midfield this season, forming a potent partnership with New Zealand Maori captain, Rua Tipoki. Mafi arrived from Taranaki in October 2006 and has endeared himself to the Munster faithful through fearless tackling, while his elusive running lines and nimble footwork have tormented defences on all fronts this season.

This season has also been recognised as Mick O’Driscoll’s best since returning from Perpignan in the summer of 2005. As lineout manager, he played a hugely significant role in the Heineken Cup pool stages and showed immense leadership qualities in the absence of Paul O’Connell, who was sidelined with injury for a large part of the season.

Ronan O’Gara has hit incredible highs since returning from the Rugby World Cup. Recognised as one of the best kickers in the game, he has proved himself to be as adept from hand, and has thrived playing alongside New Zealand triumvirate Mafi, Tipoki and Doug Howlett. O’Gara’s performance against London Wasps at Thomond Park last January was described by Shaun Edwards as a “masterclass”.

The popular Alan Quinlan is enjoying an Indian summer with the province he first started playing with in 1996. The supreme competitor has overcome a multitude of injuries, and recent performances have shown he has made a mockery of his non-selection for Ireland. Described by opposition forwards and scrum halves as a nuisance at the breakdown, Quinlan has picked up numerous man-of-the-match awards already this season.

The purpose of the awards is to recognise individual talents in the sport in Munster, as well as the achievements of clubs and schools on and off the pitch. The gala evening celebrates the spirit of rugby in the province by encompassing both the professional and domestic game.

Prize-winners in 11 categories will be honoured including Munster Player and Young Player of the Year to up-and-coming academy talent, women’s rugby, referees, schools and clubs. All funds raised will go towards the running of and development of the Munster Rugby Academy.

Meanwhile with an estimated final capacity of 25,500, the New Thomond Park Stadium development is progressing well and on plan to host Magners League and Heineken Cup games in October this year.

There is already significant demand for season tickets which for the first time combine Magners League and Heineken Cup pool stages.

There will be three types of season ticket in the 2008-9 season, current packages are identified below (note that splits of games may be amended once fixtures are confirmed): over 12,000* season tickets will be sold through the Munster Clubs and Munster Rugby Supporters Club (MRSC) for Thomond Park, incorporating the two tournaments.

When this is added to the existing Heineken Cup commitment of 10,000 tickets, the stadium will be at full capacity should a visiting team take their full entitlement. The Munster Clubs, Schools, MRSC and 10-year tickets account for over 67% of the tickets with tournament rules allowing the visiting team to purchase 15% of the available capacity.

* The 12,000 season tickets include 2,950 10-year tickets which have been sold by Munster Branch since 2006; those 10-year tickets are funding part of the capital cost of the stadium.

2008-9 Ticketing, split by category/ commitment: Clubs & schools existing entitlement and additional season tickets — 44%. Visiting team — 15%. Supporters club —11.7%. Ten-year tickets —11.6%. Players /management /staff — 4.5%. Hospitality (including suites) —3.9%. Sponsor commitments — 3.9%. Branch & committees /representative teams /MAR /wheelchair — 3.8%. Tournament organisers — 1.6%.

Munster Rugby are currently marketing 16 hospitality suites in Thomond Park for a five-year lease, which will include seven Munster representative games per season with the option to retain the suite for additional events. For additional details contact Glyn Billinghurst, Munster Rugby sales & marketing manager.

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