First impressions magnificently vindicated

Repetition  is often the bane of this business, but, if a point remains relevant and noteworthy, it’s worth trotting out again. Thus, the manner in which certain sports often overlap is once again topical. Maybe not in the way you may have been expecting though. Now read on…

Martin Donnelly & Myself at the Munster Game
While the link between, say, horse racing and GAA would be well known, not to mention how many former GAA players go on to do well in rugby, a more obscure (for now) crossover might be the one between the Paralympics and rugby! Indeed, that connection has now seen the evolution of wheelchair rugby, but more of that anon.
My own interest in the oval ball code spawned from my brother living and working in Limerick for five years. From there, people like Brendan Casey and the McCarthy brothers – Brian and James – were encountered and lasting friendships struck up. James is an accomplished sportsman in his own right.
A double Paralympics participant himself having competed at Atlanta ’96 and London 2012, he was also part of the Irish wheelchair rugby side – along with another friend of mine, Bill Byrne – that won the Six Nations earlier this year. Furthermore, James was the man that made a long held dream of mine to get to a game in Thomond Park come true nearly two years ago.
Munster rugby will always hold an especial place with me for the reasons outlined above. Some will never accept or even understand that. Still, you have to listen to thunder. There was a fair clatter of it when our touring party docked in Brady’s to round off our return to and from the magnificent Limerick venue with a few pints. You’d be tempted to ask is the same brouhaha created over folk from here supporting soccer teams from across the water. With certain detractors, it probably is!
Anyway, to the occasion itself. When recounting my first excursion to Thomond nearly two years ago, a vow was declared to make a return journey. To do so at all felt amazing, but to get to a Munster-Leinster game and so see the likes of Paul O’Connell, Simon Zebo, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Gordon D’Arcy and Rob Kearney in action was the stuff of dreams. Not forgetting the two Meath men, Niall Ronan and Devin Toner, as well. The only regret was that Brian O’Driscoll wasn’t playing, but hopefully the great one will be seen before he sidesteps into the sunset!
When last in the picturesque park, reference was made to the excellence of the facilities thence for disabled spectators. Returning made it a case of first impressions being magnificently vindicated. If anything, everything seemed even better this time round. Down to the offer of a meal and beverage at half time. No, it wasn’t availed of! Other sports grounds – across the codes – should study Thomond and take note with regard to wheelchair facilities.
Any trip is only as good the company thereon. Again, my brother Des was organiser and navigator in chief. Once more it was Eoghan D’Arcy who steered the silver vessel. Yes, the stopover in Supermac’s occurred as well. What was intriguing this time round was to have a Dubliner – Clive Worley from Drimnagh – with us all decked out in red as well. How would some folk go about getting their heads round that?
It was Clive’s first time in Thomond Park, but highly unlikely to be his last. Certainly yours truly hopes to get down there again soon enough. As it stands, the home team have a 100% strike rate when myself and Eoghan are there. They beat Cardiff Blues when last we were in attendance. On both occasions the winning try was scored right beside us. Twice, too, it was the Munster defence that made the difference.
Now, maybe this applies to other places, but, being from Dunboyne, no matter where you end up, it never seems to take long to bump into someone from the locality. So it was as I bumped into yet another man I am proud to call a friend – Martin Donnelly, surely one of the most generous men Irish sport has ever known. Without whom much of sport would be a lot worse off.

Right, so he’s a native of Clare, but, given his contribution to sports locally, surely we can claim a bit of him. A man who is, rightly, universally popular. Many would agree similar sentiments apply to Munster rugby. Sure hasn’t the owner of Brady’s in Dunboyne – a Leitrim man – got a Munster scarf. There’s probably serious head scratching going on trying to figure that out!

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