David Corkery: Airport adventures were high points of rugby away days

Munster are off to Italy this week but circumstances mean it'll be all business 
David Corkery: Airport adventures were high points of rugby away days

Munster's Billy Holland and senior coach Stephen Larkham in training before the trip to Italy. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

FROM the greatly anticipated fixture against your nearest and dearest rivals one week, to the ghastly logistical assignment of travelling to Italy during these very troubled times the next.

Some would call this the beauty of sport.

I would call it a complete pain in the rear end, especially if your job is to organise and make sure everyone arrives and returns safe and sound.

Travelling anywhere with a squad of rugby players has many associated challenges. When you need to do it during a worldwide pandemic where the highest levels of safety protocols are rigorously enforced, it brings with it a whole new set of challenges in itself.

For those of you who have ever had the pleasure of going abroad with a few kids, you will know just how utterly frustrating it can be. Now just imagine expanding that to a group of 30-odd with some immature rugby players among them and you will find your blood pressure reaching levels you never thought were possible.

Maybe things might have changed since my time overseas with various different squads, but anytime we did get the opportunity to go to distant lands it always seemed like a great chance to return to our teenage years and have as much fun as possible. 

Especially when in an airport setting.

From hiding fellow players' passports and boarding passes until the final minute before departure to emptying the entire contents of their gear bags on the baggage conveyor belt in the arrival hall, the opportunities to amuse the masses in any airport were just endless.

Then there were also the usual tricks you would try in order to get upgraded to first-class, especially on the return flight when injuries were exaggerated to levels not witnessed since the D-day landings in World War 2.

It wouldn’t be unusual to see fully fit players presenting themselves to check-in wearing neck collars, hobbling on crutches, or simulating worst-case concussion symptoms. 

As happened once on a trip home from Paris, someone actually managed to get himself and his helper a pair of first-class boarding passes by declaring he had been temporarily blinded as a result of a late tackle! 

I don’t think I ever laughed as hard watching them linked arm in arm boarding the plane and turning left when they got on board.

I would imagine that the rugby players of today are a bit more sensible however, I do miss being part of a squad where the fun that was had would be impossible to replicate in any other environment. All those high-jinks are strictly forbidden now obviously, with the world in some form of lockdown virtually everywhere.

Anyhow, back to reality and the challenges that now lie ahead of Johann van Graan and his coaching team as their international players swap camps for the impending Six Nations.

Last week Munster threw everything they had at Leinster and still managed to fall wide off the mark.

Nobody can say that the effort displayed by Munster wasn’t 100% wholehearted or brave. 

Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

When the fundamentals of the game are not as accurate as they should be against a side like Leinster though, you are leaving yourself wide open for disappointment at the sounding of the final whistle. That’s exactly what happened on this occasion.

Two or three poorly executed lineouts, a moment of carelessness by JJ Hanrahan and a few missed tackles was all that was needed for Leinster to add to their collection of Munster scalps.

For the Munster fans, it was very hard to watch however, it was nothing compared to the anguish and hurt that occupied the Munster dressing room in the moments after the game. A morgue would have had a better atmosphere.

The most important thing for Munster now is that they get back on the horse as soon as possible and return to winning ways.

THE ITALIAN JOB

Standing in Munster’s way tomorrow will be a Benetton side that have failed to win a single game in this season’s competition and you would like to think that Munster’s young guns will be more than capable of adding to their host’s misery.

Played nine and lost nine is a statistic that no side wants to have and it is something they will want to alter at the first realistic chance.

Just like Munster missed an opportunity to grind out a victory against their greatest rivals so too did Benetton when they played two weeks ago and lost to the Michael Bradley coached Zebre.

The commencement of the Six Nations is always a difficult time for teams who have players involved with their national sides. While van Graan must deal with the loss of 10 front line players from his squad, former All Black and current coach of Benetton Kieran Crowley must look at fielding a team without the services of 17 players from his.

Personally, I think this is a great time for development within all the squads that have players away on international duties and it offers the fringe players a great opportunity.

On a really positive note, Joey Carbery took part in some elements of training at Munster’s training base in Limerick during the week and the next stage of his rehabilitation process is coming along nicely.

Having a player with Carbery’s much-lauded potential and drive would be a fantastic boost for van Graan albeit, the former Leinster prodigy must first win the battle with his own confidence before he is returned to full-blown action. 

When you have had as many disappointments as Carbery has, it is so important that his mental capabilities are in the right place. Injuries are very much a big part of rugby and if he is worried about any relapses, he should not play.

Get the mind right first and everything else is manageable.

If Munster don’t win this game with a try bonus point, I’d be completely shocked.

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