David Corkery on rugby: Munster fans dare to dream again as rookies and veterans click

Thomond Park was rocking as Exeter were knocked out but even more will be needed to return to the Champions Cup semi-finals
David Corkery on rugby: Munster fans dare to dream again as rookies and veterans click

Munster's John Hodnett is tackled by Olly Woodburn and Stuart Hogg of Exeter Chiefs. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

IT wasn’t really a day for heroics but this was a game Munster rugby needed so badly to go their way. 

Thankfully it did.

Over the last 15 years, Thomond Park has afforded us many historical occasions but while the victory against a really good Exeter side wasn't miraculous, miracles are not easy to come by in Thomond Park these days.

Let there be little doubt about it that Saturday's victory was only made possible by the heroism produced by the youngsters that battled so bravely in the first tie across this new home and away format.

Facing a five-point deficit when playing in Thomond Park before a ball is kicked was very achievable. Yet Peter O’Mahony and his players had to score first so that the 16th man were given the fuel to ignite their vocal cords.

For 11 years now the Munster faithful have had to carry the very heavy burden of watching their D4 neighbours step forward to receive medal after medal. There comes a time when every man and woman’s loyalty reaches its limits.

Getting into the quarter-finals is just reward for all those who pay vast amounts of money to follow their side all over Europe. Their sense of despondency is now replaced with one of optimism. However, it is really important to remind everyone that the real work only starts now.

If Munster are going to continue along their road of redemption everything they have done to reach this point of the competition will need to be enhanced.

One of the many aspects of Saturday's performance that shone through was how commendably many of the senior players reacted to the gauntlet that was thrown down in front of them by the younger players.

Personally, I was so impressed by how the lesser-known players performed in the first game I would have started them again and make the more experienced squad members wait on the bench. 

Former Munster player Billy Holland celebrates with his family in front of the crowd at Thomond Park. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Former Munster player Billy Holland celebrates with his family in front of the crowd at Thomond Park. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Van Graan went with his tried and trusted and thankfully, his loyalty paid off.

To the fore was captain Peter O’Mahony and through his selfless efforts of putting his body on the line, he led from the front, just as all great leaders should do!

When O’Mahony was called ashore and replaced by Jason Jenkins the outcome of the game was as good as done and O’Mahony left the field looking as if he had just gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson followed by another twelve with Tyson Fury.

Over the last few years, O’Mahony’s performances may have dipped in terms of consistency but when you refuse to be beaten, your body takes you to dark places where only the very brave would dare to go. 

That’s why O’Mahony has become the icon he is today.

Joey Carbery also had a good game and when he pinpointed a mismatch in Exeter’s defensive line and dashed through for a well-worked try, you could see it meant the world to him.

Carbery who has been beleaguered with injuries ever since he left Leinster and joined Munster in order to get more game time has failed to produce any kind of form that would have you believe he will succeed the impervious Johnny Sexton when Sexton decides to hang up the boots. 

It would be great to see Carbery get a good run of games under his belt, because then and only then will we see if he has the capacity to deal with the implausible pressure that guiding teams like Munster and Ireland require

Simon Zebo was quiet by his own standards, but he has that X-Factor that everyone loves to see and his pass to Damian De Allende that allowed Munster close out the game was just sublime.

BRILLIANT

John Hodnett and Jack O’Donoghue were once again brilliant in everything they did and young Tom Ahern has really impressed me in the cameo roles he is playing.

Only the very brave would put money on this Munster side lifting silverware this year however, I do think that there are true green shoots of progress starting to immerge.

Watch this space with optimism albeit, the road ahead is very long.

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