©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Final Countdown

Leinster fans ready themselves for a very different kind of rapture

With hope in their hearts, Leinster fans have travelled en masse to Cardiff in search of history.

AMID ALL OF the laughter and pooh-poohing, there always remained a hardcore element of devout worshippers who maintained that 21 May 2011 would be a date of some significance.

For those Leinster rugby fans who have made the pilgrimage to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the hope is that today will not signify the end of days which Harold Camping and his followers have predicted but the dawn of a bright new era.

Accustomed to living in the shadow of their Munster brethren for so long, this is the day when the RDS faithful feel that they can unequivocally establish themselves as the equals (some would say superiors) of the men from Thomond Park.

In the early hours of this morning, Dublin Airport’s departures lounge was awash in a sea of blue jerseys. Blue heading to Manchester, to Bristol, to Birmingham, to London and, for the blessed few, to the Welsh capital itself.

Today, all roads truly do lead to Cardiff.

The only red in sight belongs to those Munster fans optimistic enough to have purchased their tickets for today’s final before the disappointment of this season became fully apparent. They realise that their hegemony is under threat, yet not even they would deny their rivals a famous victory.

Now, it seems that there is only one Irish province with such far-reaching plans for the future. “When can I buy my ticket for next season’s final?” joked one blue-clad fan at Rosslare Port yesterday.

Having spent so many wet and windy evenings on the terraces of Dublin 4, these fans are insistent that they will not miss out on the glory for which their ever-improving team now seems destined.

Some already know what it feels like to have let such an opportunity slip by. For those who couldn’t make it to Edinburgh in 2009, today presents an opportunity which simply could not be passed up. Today, there can be no room for conflicting demands or prior engagements.

The hordes who have descended on Cardiff are confident without being arrogant. Nobody dares to underestimate Northampton. Everybody is all too aware that tomorrow’s front pages are as likely to be emblazoned with a picture of a swallow-diving Chris Ashton as a trophy-wielding Leo Cullen.

Brave faces and puffed-out chests prevail for now as fans of both sides mingle in the vicinity of the stadium. Neither side will blink, purely because neither side feels they have reason to.

Come five o’clock, the expressions will tell a very different story.