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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Munster celebrate their win in Cork.
# Occasion
Zombie, Zebo, The Fields - Munster must return to the Páirc soon
The atmosphere was excellent in Cork as the province broke new ground.

ANYONE WHO WAS there will surely wake this morning with ‘Zombie’ still ringing in their ears. The Cranberries’ classic was the soundtrack of a brilliant night at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and is quickly becoming the new Munster anthem.

When Jack O’Donoghue led his team out to Dolores O’Riordan’s words, you just got the feeling that this game was going to be in your head for some time. It had a whiff of one of those Munster nights. And so it proved as they added the South Africans to their list of scalps against touring teams.

This was new ground for Munster Rugby and for Cork GAA. It can’t be viewed as anything other than a roaring success and is surely the first date in a relationship that will blossom. It would be a shame if Munster aren’t back at the Páirc sooner rather than later for a Champions Cup clash or a big inter-provincial derby.

A sell-out audience of 41,400 set a new record for a crowd at a rugby game in Munster and they had plenty to cheer about as Graham Rowntree’s team deservedly beat South Africa A 28-14, defying the pre-game worries that there might be more misery in store after their poor start to the URC season.

There was a hint of edginess around the place before kick-off, the fans seemingly getting their bearings in new surroundings. The poor weather didn’t help but the effort made by such a huge crowd on a miserable evening was very impressive.

The home supporters came from all over the province on a night that suggests people like this writer have been wrong to question Munster’s connection with all of their fanbase. There aren’t many club sides who could put something like last night together.

antoine-frisch-takes-to-the-field Ryan Byrne / INPHO Munster run out at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Whatever unease there might have been in the half-hour beforehand, the first booming rendition of Zombie as the Munster team came onto the pitch kicked things off. As Paddy Patterson told us in his f**king highly endearing post-match interview, running out to that tune was a special moment for the players.

It helped that Munster started the game brilliantly, with Antoine Frisch conjuring a moment of magic to help send Shane Daly sprinting into the right corner. A native of France but Irish-qualified, Frisch showed Munster fans that he could be a game-changer.

In truth, there were lots of lulls in the atmosphere throughout the game and the fact that the South Africans were so poor didn’t help. Their first-half performance was particularly woeful. The stakes just didn’t feel as high as some of the great Thomond Park occasions. The fact that the smaller rugby pitch feels a bit far away from the stands isn’t ideal, while the one screen in the stadium is very small, making it hard for those in the stadium to see replays. Those are little nit-picks.

But the big moments last night in Cork left a lasting impression. It just had to be that the man from Blackrock, Simon Zebo, would score at the Blackrock end. How he enjoyed diving in for a score that was greeted with rapturous delight. “Zebooo, Zebooo, Zebooo” came the reaction from the stands in one of the loudest roars of the night.

The Fields of Athenry nearly got going at one stage in that first half but trickled out. It was worth the wait when the Munster fans found their full voice early in the second after Mike Haley had crossed for their fourth try. This was the kind of rousing version on which Munster’s reputation has been built. The Fields booming out around the Páirc, who would have imagined it only a few years ago? 

Rowntree’s men had to dig in for much of the second half as the South Africans piled on pressure in their desperation, but those moments of resistance nearly have equal currency to tries in the eyes of hardcore Munster fans. They loved the sight of South African mauls being stopped and scrum penalties being won. 

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grant-williams-takes-a-box-kick Ben Brady / INPHO The Cork GAA stadium was a sell-out. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

And it all ended with another blast of The Fields over the closing seconds of the game before Zombie kicked in again as Munster’s players celebrated.

What it means for their season and beyond remains to be seen, but it sure felt good for the Munster squad and the Munster faithful last night.

The sight of Graham Rowntree hugging his players one by one spoke of the weight lifting off his shoulders, even if only for a few weeks.

They’re back to business in a massive clash with Connacht towards the end of the month, Thomond Park hosting that URC game. But surely it won’t be long before a return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Sign us up for that one.

Originally published at 06.15; Updated at 08.35

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