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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 May 2006, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
Munster's day of glory

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport at the Millennium Stadium

Munster fans go wild after their team wins the Heineken Cup
Munster's army of fans was the 16th man in Cardiff on Saturday

"Ladies and gentlemen, the 2006 Heineken Cup champions... Munster!"

Even the most fervent of the Irish province's wonderful supporters must have wondered if they would ever hear those words.

But when they boomed out of the public address system at a delirious Millennium Stadium on Saturday, Munster's long quest was finally over.

After 11 years, six semi-finals, countless triumphs, torments and near-misses, Anthony Foley's band of warriors could call themselves champions of Europe.

The relief was intense, the celebrations exuberant, as you might expect.

Veteran back-rowers David Wallace and Alan Quinlan danced a jig of delight. Prop Marcus Horan, after his first game in seven weeks, punched the air in triumph.

People say our fans are our 16th man and maybe they are
Munster captain Anthony Foley

But while there were heroes wherever you looked on the field - the peerless lock Paul O'Connell, the midfield strongman Trevor Halstead, barnstorming hooker Jerry Flannery - this was a triumph joyously shared by the whole Munster community.

Barring a few thousand Biarritz fans, the 74,534 crowd were entirely clad in Munster red.

Their vociferous, unrelenting support galvanized those charged with changing their reputation as the nearly men of the Heineken Cup.

"People say they are our 16th man, and maybe they are," reflected Munster captain Anthony Foley later. "It was awesome to see the red everywhere."

They were sardined into Cardiff's St Mary's Street hours before kick-off, and every hotel and hostel bed was booked, every campsite, park bench and bus shelter taken.

It was as if Thomond Park, the Limerick fortress where Munster have never lost a Heineken Cup game, had been transported to Cardiff, five times over.

The chants of "Munster, Munster" started 15 minutes before kick-off, continued through most of the game and grew in intensity and volume the closer victory approached.

There was so much noise in the stadium we had a problem with communication
Biarritz captain Thomas Lievremont

It briefly looked as though all those hopes and expectations would be dashed when Biarritz scored with barely two minutes on the clock.

But after a worrying opening 10 minutes, Munster grew into the game splendidly, swept along on a tide of emotion.

There were a few doubters when Ronan O'Gara - whose kicking from hand was nigh perfect - was twice asked to kick for touch rather than at goal.

"They're not going to win on adrenaline alone," said one seasoned observer.

He was right, in a sense. They won through a combination of passion, guts, bravery, bloody-mindedness and, most importantly, their mastery of basic skills.

Those adrenaline-charged first-half attacks paid off when Halstead ploughed over, and the noise levels went through the retractable roof when Peter Stringer nipped round the blind-side of a scrum to score a try he will never forget.

Biarritz captain Thomas Lievremont later revealed the din was so loud that a message from fly-half Julien Peyrelongue to the giant Fijian wing Sereli Bobo, who should have been guarding the space into which Stringer darted, failed to get through.

Munster celebrate beneath a massive banner after being crowned kings of Europe
Munster finally became kings of Europe in their third appearance in the final

"There was so much noise in the stadium we had a problem with communication and he couldn't be heard," lamented Lievremont.

So Munster's fans can justifiably claim they played a critical role in victory, and not only those inside the stadium.

When Biarritz had cut the gap to 20-16 midway through the second half, the giant screen panned to the thousands who had gathered in the streets back home to cheer their heroes on.

Those partisans inside the citadel, in a moment of mutual empathy, went wild and raised their own decibel levels several more notches.

With two minutes remaining, the entire crowd was on its feet as the latest chorus of "The Fields of Athenry" reached a crescendo.

But the mood was rudely interrupted by a coruscating break from Biarritz centre Philippe Bidabe with 50 seconds of normal time remaining.

Surely not more final heartbreak, after the defeats of 2000 at Twickenham and 2002 in this same arena?

No, not this time. Bobo ran straight into one of his own men, giving Munster a scrum, and the clock ticked past 80 minutes as they packed down for the last time.

Biarritz, in their desperation, tried to wheel it, and referee Chris White spotted an offence.

He whistled for a Munster penalty, but after consulting his watch, decided enough was enough.

Cue bedlam.



SEE ALSO
Munster 23-19 Biarritz
20 May 06 |  European Club
Munster inspired by past defeats
20 May 06 |  European Club
Munster's mission
18 May 06 |  European Club
Munster desperate for final glory
17 May 06 |  European Club
August cleared after ERC bungling
05 May 06 |  European Club
Destiny not a factor - O'Connell
24 Apr 06 |  European Club
O'Connell expecting great final
23 Apr 06 |  European Club


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