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'The buzz is back and it's amazing but the spark was unfortunately the passing of Anthony'

Six months after an abject performance at the Aviva Stadium against Leinster, Munster return to the capital today for a Champions Cup semi-final. A lot has changed in those six months.

EIGHT DAYS BEFORE the devastating passing of Anthony Foley, Munster were given a reminder of how far they had fallen as a worryingly abject performance saw them slip to a heavy defeat to Leinster.

Basic mistakes were a common thread throughout an October afternoon at the Aviva Stadium which raised serious question marks over the province’s credentials heading into the European campaign. Something was missing, and it hurt.

Keith Earls dejected after the game Munster trudge off after a 25-14 defeat to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium last October. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The following weekend, Rassie Erasmus brought his side to Paris for their opening Champions Cup pool game infused with the hope a fresh start would bring a change in fortune.

But the tragic events of those few days in the French capital and indeed the weeks that followed put everything in perspective but the spark that was needed came in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

Later today, Peter O’Mahony will lead his troops out for a Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium that six months ago looked highly unlikely.

“The spark unfortunately was the passing of Anthony,” former Munster captain Mick Galwey says.

“I think everyone sat down and said look rugby is very important to all of us but it’s not the end of the world, there are other things more important. When you can say that and come back and the players, management and supporters alike put in a solid effort then it’s going to change.”

Munster have been a formidable force in both the Guinness Pro12 and Champions Cup competitions having rediscovered the type of swagger, conviction and confidence associated with the great teams of the past.

“Having known Anthony this is the way he wanted the players to play,” Galwey continued.

“The current bunch of players are playing the game we all want them to play and the game they want to play themselves. They’re playing for the team, they’re playing for the jersey, they’re playing for the supporters and that’s what you want.

Munster players observe a minutes silence for their late Head Coach Anthony Foley The Munster players stand for a minute's silence for the late Anthony Foley. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“And maybe the players felt a bit of responsibility saying ‘this is what Anthony wanted us to do so the greatest way to pay back Anthony is to go out and play the rugby we can play and the rugby we should be playing’ and they’re doing that which is fantastic.”

Today’s mouthwatering clash between the two-time winners and defending champions is a sell-out at the Aviva, with thousands of Munster fans travelling up to the capital for what promises to be another memorable occasion.

Lansdowne Road is set to be turned into a sea of red and an electric atmosphere is expected inside the ground as the excitement surrounding Munster and Irish rugby reaches peek levels again.

“The buzz is back and it’s amazing,” Galwey said. “It’s always great when people ring you looking for tickets because I haven’t had that for 10 years and that’s how you know the buzz is back. It’s great and that adds to it.

“Thomond Park and Munster had lost its drawing power and we weren’t putting bums on seats, people weren’t coming and now all of a sudden people are back again and they enjoy what they see. It’s great and gives everyone a great lift. It gives Limerick, Cork and every part of Munster a great lift.

Anthony Foley and Mick Galwey Foley and Galwey lift the Interprovincial Championships Cup back in 2000. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“The most important thing is, the supporters are back because they’re enjoying what they’re seeing and the players are producing for them week in, week out. Sometimes you need a lull because maybe the players now realise that if they don’t perform we’re going to lose the crowds again and this is the way Anthony wanted Munster to play.”

So does Galwey believe it’s written in the stars that Munster will go on to claim European glory next month in honour of one of their greats?

“I’d love to believe in that but unfortunately there’s a certain Saracens team coming to town and that’s what we have to look at,” he admitted.

“If we’re lucky enough to beat Saracens then we can start talking about the dream and what’s written in the stars. They’re a good side, they’re a phenomenal side. They’ve six players going on the Lions and they’ve no weaknesses. Munster will need to be at their best but if we get over today we can start dreaming.”

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Ryan Bailey

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