Cardiff conversation: How the Heineken Cup was won

Better than 2006? By general consensus, yes. While the manic fear of losing drove Munster to a first Heineken Cup victory over Biarritz, this time around there was a clinical, cold intensity about the manner in which they squeezed the resistance out of France’s finest. Six of the central characters relive one of this country’s finest sporting achievements.


Paul Darbyshire, Munster fitness coach: “Three or four weeks before the final the lads were starting to peak, they were starting to achieve personal bests in the gym. As a result we were on to the coaches to hold back on what they were doing, and credit them for being receptive — they cut sessions short and so on to keep the lads fresh.”

Tony McGahan, defence and backs coach: “We had two high-quality sessions in UL on Tuesday that the coaching staff were very happy with, they were full of pace and intensity.

“Everyone has things they do to take their mind off the game. I try to spend a bit of time with the family — I’ve got two young twin boys so that’s a huge distraction Some guys play golf or go for coffee with someone outside the rugby circle, so they’re not constantly talking about it. But when you’re a professional sportsman the only people who are off at the same time as you are other professional sportspeople, so it’s not easy.”


Donncha O’Callaghan: “Once you get to Thursday, the countdown is on. I travelled up from Cork with Rog (Ronan O’Gara) and for the first time ever there was hardly a word between us. Usually when we’re in the car, there is plenty of banter, we’d be ringing the lads and having a bit of craic and slagging. Not this time. We had our work heads on.

“When you’re on your own, you start to get a bit nervous so it is great to meet up with the lads — knowing we are all in the same boat. You knew this was the last session to get everything right. Fellas were ready to play the game there and then. There’s a bit of an edge on days like that and it came to an end at just the right time, if you get my meaning.”

Paul Darbyshire: “We had a session at UL — we warmed up and did some team ballwork for about 45 minutes. Then everyone went over to the Clarion Hotel, where we stayed over before Friday’s flight. I noticed a difference in the players between this game and the previous games, the semi-final and quarter-final. They were more focused.”

Alan Quinlan: “We’d learned from previous mistakes, the distractions coming up to finals, and it was important to focus on ourselves — to be selfish and zone in on the job in hand. There can be a lot of distractions when it comes to tickets, travel arrangements for family and partners and so on — and they were the ones pushing us to concentrate on the game.”

Anthony Foley: “We had a squad session in UL behind closed doors which gave me the opportunity to wear my Manchester Utd jersey (United had defeated Chelsea the night before in the Champions League final). There are lots of Man Utd fans in the squad — Frankie Sheahan hopped from United to Chelsea a couple of seasons ago so he got a bit of ribbing. There are a lot of Liverpool supporters and all you heard from them was — ‘five times, five times.’ Training went well and I was on standby if Micko (Driscoll) didn’t come through.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “After that we gathered in a huddle at the end and Shaun Payne gave an emotional speech. Shaun is someone who never left the team or the shirt down. It was a different voice to what we normally hear. It was incredible.

Anthony Foley: “Shaun Payne got really emotional afterwards when speaking to the squad — but he gets that way in his old age. I didn’t feel any nerves or pressure. I was just on the periphery but seeing how confident the lads were was a good feeling. After training, we parked our cars in the Clarion and headed out to the Radisson Hotel.”

Shaun Payne: “I just felt compelled to speak after the session. Maybe I had a different perspective having come from abroad and joining Munster. I was not a Munster man from the start but I had felt the highs and the lows of my time with the province and had found out how special it was. The point I was trying to make was never take for granted what they had. And I fully meant it. It has been a privilege to play for Munster and represent the people.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “I was rooming with Tomás O’Leary. I usually room with Marcus Horan but because he was feeling a bit sick things were moved around. That freaked me out. I would be known to be meticulous about everything I do before games and I hate anything that breaks my routine. The last time I didn’t room with Marcus we lost to Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park, the only European fixture we ever lost there. Of all the times for him to be sick.

“I have a few quirks and the lads slag me about being superstitious but I just like to be prepared well in advance. My gear bag is ready from Wednesday and I know where everything is and that I wouldn’t be stressing and worrying on the morning of the match.

“Tomás was a brilliant room-mate, the best I’ve had. The most boring? I’m not going to name names but they know who they are. We had something to eat, the normal feed of chicken and pasta until it comes out your . . . I took it easy that night, watched a bit of television, went for a swim and headed for bed early.”


Donncha O’Callaghan: “We had an early start and it was off to the airport in Shannon. (Operations manager) Brian Murphy doesn’t get the credit he deserves, because without him we’d be lost. He makes sure all the tickets and paperwork for a trip like this are taken care of. Everything is sorted and things run so smoothly that we take it all for granted. The flight to Cardiff was okay and we went straight from there to the stadium for a walk around. After a few minutes I wanted to get back on the bus and head to the hotel and rest.”

Paul Darbyshire: “They were very calm, very relaxed.. Frankie Sheahan was practicing last-second drop goals, but unfortunately he missed six out of six under the posts. A bit of a worry, because he reckons he’d be next if Ronan ever went down injured. Denis Leamy, David Wallace and a few other lads joined in for a few kicks. And none of them went over, to be honest.”

Alan Quinlan: “I didn’t join in. I’d be worried I’d injure myself doing that.”

Anthony Foley: “After the trip to the stadium it was back to our base, The Vale of Glamorgan. Lots of the lads went for a rest but myself and Payne went out and played a quick round of golf. I took money off him which is always enjoyable. I’m an average golfer but I don’t think I’ll be looking at it as a career when I finish rugby.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “Guys were delighted we were staying at the Vale of Glamorgan because we know the lay of the land, and you recognise things from two years ago and associate it with winning. Fellas went off and did their own thing, I went for a sleep and then Tomás and myself watched a documentary on the BBC about a girl that climbed Everest. We both agreed that our masseur David Revins would be the most likely man in the squad to make the summit.”


Alan Quinlan: “I room with Ronan, and we were both saying we weren’t sure how much more of that we could go through, you’re so nervous. I don’t think either of us were ever as nervous before a game, the fear of losing was so great. Neither of us could comprehend a loss, but that’s good in some ways because it can drive you on.

“I read a book for a while — James Patterson’s Three Blind Mice. It’s not bad. I just finished Steven Gerrard’s autobiography, so it was a bit of a contrast.”

Paul Darbyshire: “It was my first final but it looked like the staff and players had learned a lot from the earlier finals. They said they’d been very emotional the night before the first final, when guys were speaking about how much it meant to them to be in the final, and that maybe drained them — they might have lost the game the night before.”

Alan Quinlan: “I remember that well. It was such an achievement back then to reach the final — it still is, but I suppose we shocked everyone in 2000 because we weren’t expected to win that year, with respect to everyone involved then. We certainly didn’t have the resources of the top clubs in Europe and it was sheer will and heart got us through that time.

“We were very emotional then and we all spoke the night before, and maybe we took our eye off the ball a little bit as a result. We’ve all learned since, and Declan in particular has been brilliant with that kind of stuff — Jim Williams and Tony McGahan have had different experiences from around the world and they’ve brought that with them.

“We focused on how we wanted to play, whereas in the past we might have been hoping that sheer heart would win for us. Now, and in 2006, it was about getting the performance right and having a quieter build-up. We’ve learned that fellas don’t have to shout and roar to be up for a game. That’s how we approached the game and it paid off.”

Anthony Foley: “We all got together that evening for a player meeting and Declan showed us a clip from the movie Coach Carter with one of his favourite speeches (See Panel) — I think it was used by Nelson Mandela when he became President of South Africa. The forwards went off discussing lineouts and the backs had a chat about whatever backs chat about.”

Shaun Payne: “That speech from Coach Carter was pure Deccie. He is brilliant in terms of man management and that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. The fact that Deccie and Jim were leaving was very much unspoken. It was never mentioned in speeches or talks but everybody must have been thinking it. That it was Toulouse was also a huge motivation. The lads all felt it was a way to lay down their mark in Europe. Everybody was totally focused on winning. I thought the squad was a lot more relaxed, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, from 2006. Two years ago the nerves were incredible, there was no craic, no joking, no laughing. This time round things were much more controlled and as a result everyone was more focused on the game and not using up energy worrying. I had spoken to Denis Hurley about what to expect on the day — the pitch, playing with the roof closed and how the ball tends to do things differently. I shared a couple of things with him and told him that the nerves would come. I should know, I was a ball of nerves in 2006.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “There was a DVD on in the team room — Charlie Wilson’s War — but it is really hard to watch it there with everyone coming down going: ‘what’s this lads?’ The only time everyone watches the DVD in the team room is when we are in France and there is nothing on the television. Most of the time being around with the rest of the lads is the biggest comfort. I went to bed around 11pm.”



Donncha O’Callaghan: “I woke early. Most of the time it takes me time to wake up and find my bearings. Not Saturday. I slept pretty well but woke well before 8am. You try to fight it knowing that it is a waste of energy getting up so early. And I knew Tomás was in the same boat. In the end we got up and headed down for breakfast. I wouldn’t be too nervous but the one fella I try and avoid is David Wallace. Wally is usually great fun and a laugh to be around. But on days of big games like this he goes pale and it is torture just looking at him.

“For breakfast? Chicken and pasta! I’m joking but the day of the early kick off against Llanelli we did have to eat the stuff early in the morning. This time we had porridge and eggs. But breakfast the morning of a big game tastes funny. It could be cooked by the best chiefs with the finest of ingredients but it will always taste of a pre-match meal.

“It was quiet when we went down. It was only the management who were down there, fellas who are used to getting up at a decent hour not like players who usually roll out of bed around 11am. Myself and Ian Dowling always eat at the same time. It is now becoming a running joke in the morning: ‘fancy meeting you here.’”

Anthony Foley: “Shaun was awake before me; we ended up watching the Crusaders and the Hurricanes in the Super 14 semi-final that morning. It is a really long day when you are not involved. I hate all that dead time. When you are in the match day 22 there are lots of things to be involved in and things to keep you going. Instead I spent hours ironing my shirt and watching television.”

Paul Darbyshire: “Before the game it’s always the same format, whether it’s a Magners League or Heineken Cup game. We go through referee clips and give out some information about the ref, then the forwards go through some line-outs, while the backs do some passing. We have a meal and then there’s an hour and a half break.”

Tony McGahan: “Our hotel had an indoor facility, which we used to run through a few things before the match for about 20 minutes, as opposed to doing them in the car park. The forwards did line-outs, and the backs were practicing first phase moves for both defence and attack. The fact it was indoors was particularly helpful — with the roof being closed at the Millennium, we could replicate the very still conditions, whereas it was quite windy outside that day.”


Donncha O’Callaghan: “We meet up around lunchtime and go through a video presentation on referee Nigel Owens with Jason Holland. It is great to do things like this a few hours before the game, fellas are like sponges. You could do this on the Tuesday and it will go in one ear and out the other but not today. Then we went for a bit of lineout practice. Usually we do it in any space like a car park of where Jerry Flannery wouldn’t hit a few lights. But there is an indoor hall in the Vale which was perfect for the job. The fitness guys were talking to us about taking fluids on board. We were sweating buckets at that stage.”

Paul Darbyshire: “Then we come together for the final meeting — we got together in one room, players and staff, and Declan didn’t need to say too much. He was looking around the room and it was nice and quiet and he could sense, as we all could, that it was spot on.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “We went back up to the room for a quick shower, got into our gear and waited for the team meeting. You want to be there early but not too early. This is a really intense time. You want to avoid it as long as you can but you don’t want to come rushing in either. Tomás (O’Leary) was cool out. He is a really confident fella. There is no fear in him. A lot of people perceive him to be new to the team but he has been around the squad for ages. In the meeting Paul and Deccie spoke. But you know by looking around, by guys’ eyes and the way fellas are walking around that not a lot needs to be said.”

THE BUS RIDE, 2.45pm

Tony McGahan: “The bus ride to the stadium is always a very emotional part of the day. We’d only covered about three or four kilometres when people started tooting their horns to let us know they were supporting us.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “Some fellas have their special seats, I jump in anywhere. I was sitting beside Kieran Lewis. It is always tough when you are in your tracksuit and the guy next to you isn’t — especially a great guy like Kieran. No one really talks on the bus. I listen to my Ipod and look out and watch the world go by as we edge closer to the centre of Cardiff. My playlist reminds me of my family and friends. It’s mainly Irish stuff like The Frank and Walters, who are from Bishopstown, or The Frames. A few Bob Marley songs are on there as well.”

Tony McGahan: “Then to come into the city centre and see the waves of people was overwhelming. The way Munster supporters gather on days like those is a wonderful part of world rugby. The bus was very quiet at this time, as it always is. There’s generally not much chat, players are either deep in thought or whatever they do to get themselves ready.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “Funny the things you remember. A policeman was giving a Munster fan a ticket as we were pulling past and next thing the supporter ran alongside the bus for a while with the cop looking on wondering what the hell was happening. Police on horses led us down the final stage. I turned up the Ipod. You try not to get too tied up in the emotion, you know how much it means. You try to feed off it and not be overcome by it.”


Donncha O’Callaghan: “They changed the room around from where we sat two years ago. Paulie was worried that it would upset me because of my superstitions. Where the No 15 jersey was the last time the No. 1 jersey was this time, and so on and so on. But as soon as I saw my jersey was in a different spot I was delighted. This was a different final so things had to be different from 2006.

“I have a little routine I follow before any match. Basically I walk the pitch, get a few things ready for taping, work on my line-outs and say a few prayers. Anyway I went for a walk on the pitch and I saw Vincent Clerc on crutches, all alone, bawling his eyes out. That really it brought it home to me. I remembered what Axel had said about not taking days like this for granted. We think that the club means so much for us but it was the same for them. Look at what he has achieved in the game with France and here he was crying like a child. I felt so sorry for him then.”

Tony McGahan: “Patience was an overriding factor. The players have a large base of experience so they know that doing things well, time after time, gets the right result. A couple of minutes before kick-off, the players were left to their own devices and there’s no more instruction.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “Paul spoke to us before we went out. But Munster is different to a lot of teams. If you have something to say, you say it. It is open season for anyone who needs to have their say to get it off their chest. Then we headed out into the tunnel and we were made wait there for a while. It is grand for soccer players to be lined up like that but we are going straight out into a full contact 80 minutes. It was pretty tense. Fabien Pelous had a look back at his team and then glanced over at us. We left him in no doubt that we were ready for business.”

Paul Darbyshire: “I’m responsible for the warm-up, getting the lads ready: I’ve changed it this year, we used to have a 45-minute warm-up, but now it’s 20 minutes, shorter and intense, so they’re ready as soon as they stop.”

CUP FINAL: 5.05pm

Paul Darbyshire: “Five minutes into the game the supporters sang the Fields of Athenry, and hearing it that early in the game made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Everybody was singing, and that maybe was the 16th player for us, it was sung with so much passion.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “I wasn’t worried about the first 15 minutes. They came up and were really up for it but for all the possession they had we only conceded three points. We withstood all the pressure and that was a huge show of intent. People talk about the role of the Munster supporters and how it effects the opposition and it is so true.

“Before Ellissalde missed his penalty all you could hear was the Fields of Athenry roaring out around the stadium. But when he was getting ready to kick the ball there was silence and I think it put him off.”

Shaun Payne: “As a spectator, I am quiet compared to my wife. In public I look very calm but inside I can really be agitated when I see dropped passes. I’m almost playing the game. The first 20 minutes I felt were key. We handled everything that they threw at us and defended brilliantly. The pack were magnificent. I felt confident.”

Tony McGahan: “The main thing we’d talked about all week was to make sure we were able to control the tempo of the game, and we were hoping to do that through our kicking game and ball control. So to have Toulouse playing the first 20 or 25 minutes with so much ball was frightening. But the players defended magnificently, and really put their bodies on the line. It was very telling that having thrown so much at us, Toulouse had only come away with three points.”

Anthony Foley: “I turned to Jimmy Williams after 15 or 20 minutes and said I had a good feeling. We were three points down, Toulouse were battering us but we were standing firm.”

Alan Quinlan: “I didn’t even notice Dusautoir had gone off until half-time. He would have been part of our thinking before the game. Myself, Wally and Leams would have been determined as a unit to get the better of their back row unit, because they’ve been dominant for them. Bouilhou, Sowerby and Dusautoir? We felt if we could get the better of them it might have a bearing on the game.

“Dusautoir going off was probably a blow for them, but when you see someone like Nyanga coming on you know you’re not going to be able to relax. Credit to the rest of the forwards as well — the front row were up for it, and Paul and Donncha were their usual selves as well, throwing themselves around. We made a pact among ourselves to have a massive workrate, and it paid off.”


Paul Darbyshire: “Some people expected us to be destroyed in the scrum but we more than held our own. I felt the scrum just before Denis Leamy scored was very significant in the scheme of things.

The try was a direct result of driving their scrum back against the head. The forwards really stood up at that stage.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “Denis wasn’t too sure whether he had scored or not but we all backed him. We all went back to halfway and Paul stayed up with the referee. I think that the try being disallowed was a turning point in the game. We sprinted all the way back up for the scrum. I’d say Paul was worried and wondering — ‘how am I going to calm these guys down’. But we felt one of our own had been wronged and we were not leaving there without a try.”

Alan Quinlan: “Credit to John, Jerry and Marcus, because that was a turning point, and we scored subsequently. For Denis’ try and that whole period of pressure, we were very determined not to lose an opportunity so close to the line.”

Tony McGahan: “To deny them for so long and then score 10 points in as many minutes at the other end was vital. You could really see there was a spring in our step, the body language was excellent and we were very focused. You could also see the disappointment in the Toulouse faces — they would probably have been more confident of being in front by that stage.”


Paul Darbyshire: “At half-time Jerry Flannery was standing in the middle of the dressing-room saying how strong they felt, and the other forwards agreed. They felt the Toulouse pack were crumbling a bit, and that was great to hear.”

Tony McGahan: “The players had a couple of minutes to themselves to keep quiet, focus the mind and get their heart rate down so they could listen to some instructions. Declan (Kidney) made a few points, then I’d talk about defence and attack. Then we split the units — Jim (Williams) took the forwards, I took the backs, then it was just player time. Paul (O’Connell) and Rog just took over for the rest of it. The players felt they were well on top and that Toulouse looked a bit body-weary, especially after all the heat they’d given us in the first quarter. The boys really felt they were winning the one-on-one battles.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “For me half-time is an huge time for input from the coaches. This is where the coaches earn their money, giving us clear information about what we are doing right, doing wrong and what we need to do to win this game. Jimmy took the forwards and felt the line-outs were working well. Tony went through the defence and Deccie just put it all together. I was confident of how things were going. We knew that the next score was vital.”


Donncha O’Callaghan: “Dougie’s try, even though it was disallowed for a forward pass, served a purpose. It left them in no doubt that he could skin them at any stage. He is a pure finisher and I felt so sorry for him and Rua because of the great work they had done in the lead up. But it just shows how small the margins can be at this level. If we had scored there would have been a very different finish to the game.”


Alan Quinlan: “I didn’t really have a chat with Pelous, I was trying to put pressure on Byron Kelleher, and that’s out of respect for the guy, he’s so dangerous. There was a bit of an exchange between the referee and Kelleher and I was trying to get involved, to stop Kelleher influencing the referee, and Pelous took exception to me walking around there and pushed me in the face. Then he kicked me. He did kick me and I got a bit of a slagging, but he did make contact — I have a bruise on my hamstring — but it was disappointing to see him get a yellow card. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few decisions that have gone against me, and I don’t think his sin-binning had a big influence on the game.

“They had their best period afterwards and scored a try, so I was glad from my point of view that nobody could blame me for costing Toulouse the game. Pelous is a guy I have a lot of respect for — a fantastic player over the years and a great guy.


Anthony Foley: “Toulouse were down to 14 men and we should have capitalised. But Tony McGahan had said he was just waiting for Heymans to do something. And he did.

Tony McGahan: “A minute of magic was all it took, and they were back in it. Their winger was telling him not to throw the ball in, but Heymans just went for it. It was a special piece of rugby at an important time.”

Paul Darbyshire: “When Toulouse levelled it I was behind the posts with our lads. There was absolutely no panic. They knew there’d been a couple of lapses to let Toulouse in, but we knew were on top, and they just had to start again. I was really impressed with the composure of everyone behind the posts at that point. Maybe other teams — lesser teams — might have crumbled, but they showed huge resilience.”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “What I remember most about the try was the aftermath. Jerry Flannery stood out. He was going to lead by his actions. If you were out on the pitch with us you’d wonder do we get on away from the field, because we’re so tough on each other. He was abusing me: ‘Donners cop yourself on, you’re looking tired.’ But he was right. I was not carrying myself as well as I needed to be. He was constantly onto Marcus and John as well. In a Heineken Cup final it’s hard to look out for yourself but he was doing that and looking out for others. The respect he has gained intensified there and then. Rog kicked a penalty soon after and I was still confident we could do it.”


(70th minute):

Alan Quinlan: “The crowd gave us a huge boost towards the end. There were times in the game when we felt like collapsing — I’m sure Toulouse felt the same, the stadium was so hot, it felt like there was no air to breathe at all — but the crowd got behind us, and it made you get up and go to another ruck, make another carry. It really stood to us.”

Tony McGahan: “We wouldn’t be bold enough to expect that a quality team like Toulouse wouldn’t score any points, but we knew if we kept them around the 10-13 points mark we’d be good enough to get a result. The last 10 minutes were certainly a nervous time for me, as it was for everyone watching. When you commit yourself to that pick-and-go style there’s only a slight margin for error — the forwards are grouped in a high density, so one loose ball or a turnover and you leave yourself very vulnerable. Toulouse are a good defensive side too, and they were certainly attacking the ball, but full credit to our guys for being able to recycle it.”

6.28pm (79th minute):

Alan Quinlan: “There were only five or six seconds left and the referee said to Ronan that there’d be one more play. The worry was that if he kicked for goal from the penalty that it might come off the post and they could counter-attack. It was just about holding the ball and then kicking it out of play, but as it happened one of their players held onto the ball and we got the penalty to finish it.”

Tony McGahan: “You’d always back the players to make the right call. Paul and Rog had a good handle on it, and they knew exactly what was required.”

Anthony Foley: “Afterwards people were saying we should have tried for a drop goal. But playing the possession game was a no-brainer. There was always a chance the ball might hit the post. Why give them a chance?”

Donncha O’Callaghan: “Were we tempted to kick? Not at all. The forwards are dictated by the half backs and Tomás controlled things brilliantly. Whatever he told us to do, we did. No one was panicking. We had huge self belief. I was 100% confident that we would retain the ball. But you do get a little tense when you are on the ball, when it is your shift and you don’t want to mess it up.

“I was disappointed afterwards with comments that we were playing negative rugby especially from someone like Ellisalde. He tried for drop goals any chance he got and one time when they had the numbers he launched a big crossfield kick which Marcus caught.”


Donncha O’Callaghan: “I found myself on the ground and couldn’t get up off the floor. The last time was all about relief, all about getting a monkey off our back. But this time it was all about pure joy. These are special moments. After the presentation we returned to the dressingroom. If someone locked the door and left us there for the night we would have been happy out.”

Paul Darbyshire: “Donncha was the first I ran into, then I turned around and Denis Fogarty dove on me like a grizzly bear, which shows how important it was to the lads who weren’t on the field — Darragh Hurley, Mossy Lawlor were all on the field and they were ecstatic. It was fantastic. Nothing needed to be said.”

Tony McGahan: “Just enormous relief. We made our way down to the pitch and walked around, caught up with the guys and soaked it all up, the noise and the looks on the players’ faces at the final whistle. There’s joy, tears, elation — a range of emotions going through each individual. They all had their own story to tell about getting there and winning it.

“It would have been very tough on Anthony Foley and Peter Stringer to not be in the starting 15. They’re both very proud guys who set high standards of themselves. Anthony was captain in 2006 and is such a huge part of the Munster ethos and culture, while Peter was man-of-the-match two years ago, but neither got a minute on the field on Saturday. But they certainly supported the players in front of them, particularly Tomás O’Leary and Donncha Ryan. They were just thinking ‘team’.

Anthony Foley: “I was delighted. A superb effort had gone in over the year and it meant so much with so many people leaving the set up. It was a great way to finish off for Deccie after everything he has done with Munster. Two wins and two losses in finals is some record. We would like to have won more, that is the one thing we keep saying, we would like to have won more.”

Shaun Payne: “It was sheer elation and the final whistle. But for any professional sports person like me on the periphery of a team like this, the day is tinged with a slight regret and disappointment. You have made massive contributions in getting to this day but there isn’t the same relief and release of energy at the final whistle as there would be if you were out there. But it was still thrilling when that whistle came.”

Alan Quinlan: “Better than 2006? It’s difficult to say — any time you win the European Cup it’s massive. To achieve it again was just amazing, and with complete respect to the 2006 team, a lot of people wrote us off this year. We had a tough group and we were away for the quarter- and semi-final. I played more of a part this season but I was as happy last Saturday as I was two years ago. We’re an ambitious group of players, and Munster rugby is ambitious, and we’re anxious to continue.”

Tony McGahan: “The dressing room was a little bit more subdued; the players had been outside for 40 minutes, and the emotion had died down a little bit. It’s a time for the squad and the management to enjoy each other’s company for an hour, sit down and exchange stories from the game and look back on a job well done. As you’d expect, Stand Up and Fight was sung with gusto — the players enjoy that one and they’ve obviously been doing it for a while.”


Tony McGahan: “Having had some time to reflect, the biggest thing about it for me is jumping from our first to second Heineken Cup title. It’s such a fine line to get back in a position to win it — just look at Wasps and Leicester, they were finalists last year but neither got out of their pool this time around. The biggest thing for Munster now will be the expectation that comes with it.

“Every team has to evolve, it’s the same with any sport and especially so with this team because they’ve been together a long time. We have to make sure we’re smart enough to bring through the right type of players, and keep ourselves in a position to be successful — it’s a lot easier for new guys to come into a winning a team. The likes of Axel, John Kelly and Shaun Payne will be difficult to replace, but we’ve put the backs through a huge change over the past two years and the forwards will be the next unit to go through that. The important thing is to make sure that transition as smooth and comfortable as possible.”


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