Saturday 13th January was a truly wondrous day. I was present at my cousin’s wedding, which was really fantastic. Few who read this column (or is that the few who read this column?) would know what a gooey, soppy romantic I am. I see lurve everywhere and, as the song goes, I think lurve and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. So if there are any eligible womenfolk reading this, I’ll be happy to peruse your CV to ascertain whether you would be fit to be the vessel of my genetic material. And who said romance was dead?
There were other reasons for the joy I felt on that day. Obviously the ‘Pool tonked Ghastly Villa. I genuinely felt we were on to a loser with this one, but I didn’t bargain with one factor: Liverpool playing like gods. Winning is one thing, but smearing a team with delusions of grandeur like Villa all over terra firma gives one a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Even at our lowest ebb, Liverpool should be able to beat a team consisting of concentration camp inmates (with apologies to all victims of said form of incarceration) and Carlos Kick-a-balls (with apologies to Alan Sugar) like Villa. Which they did with admirable ruthlessness on Saturday.
Curious how I wasn’t concerned that there might be a repeat of the Southampton debacle when we chucked away a three goal lead in the second half. Maybe it’s because Villa haven’t scored three back-to-back goals in the reign of a Pope.
Anyway. As if all that wasn’t enough, another team dear to my heart were plucking giant redwoods out of the ground and using them as toothpicks. Unlike its football counterpart, the European Rugby Cup is structured in such a way that EVERY game counts. Another feature of European rugby is that home advantage is usually considered paramount. Away wins are about as common as a magnanimous Evertonian. It was against this unpromising background that my team, Munster (in case you haven’t decoded the needlessly cryptic title) played Newport in Wales. Undeterred, the Munstermen went toe-to-toe with the Taffs, and there was much wailing in the valley’s as Munster emerged fifteen point winners.
“He’s talking flippin’ rugby!” is probably the pained cry reverberating across the Internet. The only people left reading at this stage are doctors surreptitiously downloading this article as a cure for insomnia – incidentally this article is copyright of shanklygates.co.uk, all right reserved, Doc. But there is a lesson in the Munster experience for Liverpool.
At the moment, Liverpool Football Club and the province of Munster share certain advantages. Both have a great squad of players with tremendous strength in depth; both have all the necessary backroom expertise; both have a long and distinguished history of success, Munster being the only Irish team ever to beat New Zealand and Liverpool being, well, Liverpool. But one thing separates the English team in Red from the Irish one, and that’s present day success. While I won’t cause the evacuation of multiple stomachs by detailing the ‘Pool’s litany of failures in recent times, Munster are invincible in Ireland and last year came within a whisker of adding the European Cup to their trophy haul. The win over Newport has put them in the last eight of this year’s competition, and their form over the last two years must make them provisional favourites for the title this year.
Munster’s trick – if I can use so blasé word to describe their success – is unquenchable self-belief. This is not a characteristic generally associated with Irish teams. Normally Irish teams have what has been amusingly described as “the Guinness factor” i.e. around an hour into the game they start believing they can’t win. And they don’t. Munster, on the other hand, have an unnerving habit (for the opposition) of coming back from the dead. Time and time again they have stolen a match in which the soil was already being shovelled into their grave. Fifteen points ahead early on the game on Saturday and beating Munster into the ground, Newport must have felt the sharpened wooden stake would be unnecessary. But the creature was not dead, and it slowly came back before sucking the life out of the Welsh with seventeen devastating points in the last five minutes.
It must have been utterly soul-destroying for Newport. And we should know; Liverpool seem to suffer from perpetual Newport syndrome, administering multiple wounds but failing to land the knockout blow. It’s easy to hammer Villa, who have less soul than a Celine Dion song. But beating relegation threatened loonies like Middlesbrough or Southampton seems to be beyond us. We have to learn from the likes of Munster, that the whole has to be much more than the sum of the parts if true greatness is to be achieved.
And how do we secure it? I don’t know. I’ve being trying to avoid the dreaded word ‘confidence’ because it is more obvious than David O’Leary’s arrogant streak, but that’s exactly what we need. It’s something no amount of money can buy, and it’s down to the management to find it. Perhaps Le Boss should come over to Ireland and have a chat with Munster coach Declan Kidney about this subject. And while he’s here perhaps he can bring over some nubile young English wench who is willing to be chained to a sink and (snip! – the remainder of this column has been censored by the Campaign for Public Decency. I know your father, you young scamp!)