WHEN the greatest years in the history of Munster rugby are debated, the obvious candidates are always going to be 1978, 2006, and 2008, the first for the immortal victory over the All Blacks and the other two for Heineken Cup triumphs.
But other years have to be considered, too, even if no plays were written, or DVDs released, about them.
Munster’s 3-3 draw with New Zealand at Musgrave Park in 1973, when the Kiwis required a penalty in the last minute to avoid being scalped, five years before they actually were, warrants consideration.
The 22-19 win over then World Champions Australia, in 1992, was another huge day in the history of the province, while wins over Australia and the New Zealand Maori, in the pro era, will have been highlights for some.
But one year that must be considered amongst Munster’s finest is 1967, when they became the first Irish province to defeat a touring side, beating Australia 11-8 in Musgrave Park in January of that year.
That victory was a foundation stone for the Munster myth that was to blossom so magically in the professional age in the 2000s.
The 1967 Australian vintage was nothing like the wonderful side they would become in the David Campese era of the 1980s.
In fact, looking back all these years later, it seems utterly bizarre, as Australia played a phenomenal 36 games on that tour of Britain and Ireland, and of France and Canada, winning 19, drawing three, and losing 14.
Australia had been to Ireland in December of 1966 and they had seen off Leinster at Lansdowne Road, 9-3, and they returned to the Dublin 4 venue over a month later to face Ireland on January 21, losing 15-8. Four days later, they lost that famous tie to Munster, 11-8, in Cork.
That Test match between Ireland and Australia was the first game between the two countries in nine years, and while Ireland would tour Australia later that year, and play one Test, those two 1967 meetings were only the fourth and fifth Tests between the countries.
The Irish team that won on January 21 contained four Cork men: Tom Kiernan, Paddy McGrath, Phil O’Callaghan, and the captain Noel Murphy, as well as Barry Bresnihan, from Waterford, and Kerry’s Mick Doyle.
For the record, the Irish team was:
IRELAND: Tom Kiernan, Alan Duggan, Barry Bresnihan, Harold Rea, Paddy McGrath, Mike Gibson, Brendan Sherry, Philip O’Callaghan, Ken Kennedy, Thomas Moroney, Willie-John McBride, Mick Molloy, Mick Doyle, Noel Murphy (capt), Ken Goodall.
The four Corkonians and Bresnihan were back in action four days later at Musgrave Park for the famous first triumph. Note that Doyle plied his trade for Leinster.
At the 50th anniversary celebration of the win, in 2017, the Munster hooker on the day, Ken Ging, from Sunday’s Well, recalled the closing stages.
“Referee Gilliland, from Ulster, awarded the scrum to Australia and the ground became deadly quiet.
"Ken Catchpole, the Aussie scrum-half, was just about to put the ball in when the voice of Noisy (Noel Murphy) was heard to inquire how much time was left. ‘It is full-time now,’ replied Mr Gilliland. Tom Kiernan screamed, ‘Then blow your bloody whistle’.
“To his eternal credit, that is what that finest of referees did, and we were home, if not exactly dry.”
Eleven of the 15 who played for Munster that day were from Cork clubs, in what must be one of the greatest days of rugby union ever in Cork. The game was played in front of a reputed full house of 10,000.
Tipperary native Johnny Moroney scored the decisive try, with Tom Kiernan kicking two penalties and a conversion in the historic win.
For the record, the team was:
MUNSTER: T Kiernan (Cork Con, c); A Horgan (Cork Con), J Walsh (Sunday’s Well), B Bresnihan (UCD), P McGrath (UCC); J Moroney (Garryowen), L Hall (UCC); P O’Callaghan (Dolphin), K Ging (Sunday’s Well), M O’Callaghan (Young Munster), B O’Dowd (Bohemians), J Murray (Cork Con), N Murphy (Cork Con), L Coughlan (Cork Con), T Moore (Highfield).
The year would only get better for six of those starters, as Tom Kiernan, as captain, and Noel Murphy, from Cork Con, Jerry Walsh, of Sunday’s Well, Pat McGrath, of College, Terry Moore, of Highfield, and Phil O’Callaghan, of Dolphin, were all part of the Irish team that became the first northern hemisphere nation to win a Test in Australia, on May 13 of that year, in Sydney, when Ireland triumphed 11-5.
To have five different Cork clubs represented on such an historic day for Irish rugby was a truly remarkable feat.
The legendary Mike Gibson scored the only Irish try that day, an opportunistic effort off the back of a botched Wallaby scrum near their own line, while Tom Kiernan kicked a conversion and a drop goal in a game where he equalled the then-world-record of 33 international appearances.
A try was only worth three points back then. The game has certainly moved on, but the ripples of those famous triumphs are still being felt to this day.