How times have changed.
Take Saturday as an example. The attendance at the semi-final meeting of these famed clubs at Dooradoyle was watched by about 200 hardy souls.
Sadly, such scenes have become more common since the advent of the All Ireland League and professionalism in the 1990s with some clubs no longer entering the competition.
However, for traditionalists like Garryowen and Cork Con, it is a very different matter as their teams demonstrated in a keenly and honestly contested encounter on Saturday.
“People say to me, there is no room for the cup with the way the game has evolved but I think that’s rubbish,” Con coach Brian Hickey asserted. “This cup has huge currency for anyone who plays in it. On Saturday, we got a full-on, old-fashioned Munster Cup match right up to the final whistle. When you’re playing 18 competitive league games home and away and it’s full on; it is hard to fit the cup in because your status in the game is judged by the league. But there are clubs who take it very seriously; I’m proud mine is one of them”.
He continued: “I don’t see why the two competitions can’t co-exist. You’re talking only four matches. Leinster seem to run off their cup at the start of the season leading into the AIL and it certainly gets the teams focused. We have 12 senior teams in Munster and I always thought they could be divided into two sections and run the cup in two sections like in Leinster. I think it’s very important for I believe Munster’s success was based on cup rugby”.
Conan Doyle, Garryowen’s head coach, also feels strongly that the Munster Cup still has a major role in the promotion of the game.
“We met Con, who had won the cup for the previous five years, three weeks in a row and this was the most important of the three to us”, he claimed. “There are more opportunities in the league – you could lose twice to Con and still go ahead and win it. You can’t lose in the cup. It’s knock-out rugby.”
However, if Doyle was given a choice of the cup or the league, would he still go for the cup? His response: “If I was given a choice of the cup trophy or the league trophy, I’d take the league trophy. But if it was a cup win over league points, I’d take the cup win”.
He then made a point of undoubted merit about a situation that is seriously damaging the image of the Munster Cup.
“It’s unfortunate that the games are put on the same weekends as the European Cup and A fixtures”, he stressed. “I think it is unfair to put on these cup games when you know teams are going to be missing players, especially at semi-finals and final stage, who play with you regularly in the league but can’t play in the cup. I would question from experience whether a guy would want to play in a Munster A game or a Munster Cup final. I know the answer. It’s a really good feeling, for young players especially, to be in a situation where they are told the history of all the people who won it before them and can win a cup final with their club. It would be very special and definitely more special than what they’re doing wherever they are with the A team”.