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Thomond Park and Munster connect like we haven't seen for some time

This felt like the renewal of something special between province and supporters.

Updated at 18.48

THIS WAS A day when we saw that famous relationship between Munster and their supporters hit the old heights.

From two hours before kick-off, there were Munster fans in their places in the east and west terraces at Thomond Park, with thousands more filtering in the gates towards the Shannon clubhouse.

The Munster Squad stand for a minutes silence for the late Anthony Foley 22/10//2016 Thomond Park was a special place this afternoon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

If Munster’s players turned up in a barely believable fashion on the pitch, then the province’s famous supporters did the same off it. This was like the glory days, only magnified by the grief of the past week, even more intense.

From the moment Munster strode onto the pitch for their warm-up, we got the kind of guttural roars that the Red Army is famous for.

‘The Fields of Athenry’ was in full voice for the first time half an hour before kick-off, before the Munster Rugby Supporters Club choir led a rendition of ‘There is an Isle’ that fizzed with emotion.

Five minutes out from the start and suddenly a sheer silence, nobody sure what to do next. But Thomond Park burst back into life after the impeccably-observed minute’s silence for Foley, seemingly driving Munster into a superb start with Tyler Bleyendaal’s try.

Anthony Foley always wanted Munster and their fans to feed off each other, spark action out of each other and coexist to power the province to success. That’s what occurred in Limerick this afternoon.

Invariably, the fans’ voice was met with a response on the pitch. ‘The Fields’ burst back up, Peter O’Mahony clamped over the ball for a vital turnover penalty. ‘Stand Up and Fight’ rang out and CJ Stander blasted into contact for another gainline success.

There was simmering discontent briefly at Keith Earls’ red card but, as for the left wing himself, it was the feeling of injustice rather than the validity of the refereeing decision that seemed to cause the anger.

Jaco Taute with CJ Stander at the final whistle 22/10//2016 Jaco Taute and CJ Stander embrace. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

No harm, we drive into the next battle, like Foley would have demanded.

This was the kind of atmosphere that ‘Axel’ pined for in recent seasons, as Thomond Park’s attendances dipped, along with those of other stadiums in Europe. He dreamed of the famous Limerick venue being full again, and full of fervour.

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This occasion was all about sending the former number eight off in style, but perhaps it marks the beginning of something too, or rather a renewal of something.

Foley would love nothing more than for this occasion, such an unforgettable one, to be the start of a return to better times.

That’s what it felt like, and not simply because of the quality of the rugby.

The real essence of Munster is that the province has been a vehicle for the creation of relationships and bonds. Sons and fathers, husbands and wives, daughters and dads, life-long friends, all the rest of them.

So many people have bonded through their shared support of Munster. The lows, the memorable highs – every one of the experiences drew their followers closer together in unique ways.

Peter O'Mahony with Tony and Dan Foley Captain Peter O'Mahony with Dan and Tony Foley. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Today felt like that. No one present in Thomond Park will forget it, the scene after the final whistle most of all.

Anthony Foley’s two young sons, Dan and Tony, came onto the pitch to join the victorious Munster players, very much part of the family. They all formed a circle in the middle of the pitch, arm-in-arm, and Thomond Park went silent.

‘Stand up and Fight’ bellowed around the ground, the pure release of it striking deep.

Normally reserved for the privacy of the changing room, Munster’s celebratory rendition drew every soul in Thomond Park into their inner circle, Foley represented by his proud sons.

The legendary number eight, more than anyone, would want this to be the start of something long-lasting.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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