OH how Munster could do with the Red Army’s support for this afternoon’s Champions’ Cup tie with Toulouse at Thomond Park.
Rarely has a team been in such need of a feverish atmosphere generated by 26,000 fanatics after last week’s dispiriting loss to Leinster in the PRO 14 final.
But, instead of a throbbing Thomond, the terraces and stands will be empty as has become the accepted norm.
It seems like there will never be fans back at games again.
Munster must drag themselves from the floor after the psychologically damaging defeat (again) by the boys in blue to face the French aristocrats in a test of the very fibre of player and management alike.
Sadly, long gone is the day, when visiting teams showed up sheepishly at the Limerick fortress.
Now, Toulouse travel brimming with confidence and a strong belief of winning to extend their European campaign.
It’s fast approaching the 21st anniversary of the founding of the famous 16th man, the tens of thousands of supporters who followed Munster all over the continent in the quest for the Holy Grail, that historic first Heineken Cup.
The original battalion came together during the 1999-2000 season, when Munster’s odds of 66/1 reflected just how well down the pecking order they were considered by the experts.
But, a successful group phase, which included a breakthrough win on English soil, the memorable 35-34 win over a powerful Saracens side at Vicarage Road, having been 21-9 down, started to attract people’s attentions.
And when Stade Francais from Paris became the latest victims in the quarter-finals in the Limerick fortress, interest in the team reached unprecedented levels.
Destination Bordeaux! That was the fate which awaited Munster for the last-four game, when, all of a sudden, some 5,000 fans made the journey.
And they didn’t just come from Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Kerry, Clare and Waterford, but from Galway, Dublin, Paris, Brussels and several other cities across the continent, too.
Still, few, if any, gave Mick Galwey’s side any chance of upsetting the formidable French, the inaugural winners four years earlier and the bookies’ fancies who had put 60 points on Munster the same season.
Conditions didn’t appear conducive either, a baking hot sun scorching the 28,000 capacity Stade Lescure, home of the local soccer club, with Munster expected to suffer.
But, this was different, even before kick-off. Galway took his players, wearing runners, to ‘warm up’ in front of the baying Toulouse fans and their brass band.
Naturally, they were greeted by howls of derision and yet by the time Scottish referee Jim Fleming blew his whistle to signal the end, even the most ardent Toulousain stood to applause the men in red.
It wasn’t so much Munster’s stunning 31-25 triumph, more than the manner in which Ronan O’Gara orchestrated a back division that un-Frenched the French with a swashbuckling display of ball-in-hand and support play.
Munster had been the traditional up-the-jumper team, but this new expansive approach earned widespread praise, most notably for the famous try in the second-half.
Feeding a scrum just outside their own 22 and trailing 18-17, Munster went the length of the pitch to score one of the greatest tries in the tournament’s glorious history.
O’Gara gleefully touched down in front of the Toulouse fans, who went numb with the shock.
And when Jason Holland, so instrumental in the build-up, intercepted a couple of minutes later Munster had raced 31-17 clear and were on their way to a first final.
The game is also recalled for John Hayes’s first-half try, the mighty prop spending 17 seconds on the ground between rucks before suddenly having the ball in his grasp one stretch away from the line.
Somehow, the current Munster crop must draw from days like this, when also winning the try count 3-1, to boost their prospects this afternoon and restore faith.
The Munster team in 2000 was: D Crotty; J Kelly, M Mullins, J Holland, A Horgan; R O’Gara, P Stringer; P Clohessy, K Wood, J Hayes; M Galwey, captain, J Langford; E Halvey, A Foley, D Wallace.
Subs: F Sheahan for Wood and D O’Callaghan for Galwey.
Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).