A Bit of Faith Apr02


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A Bit of Faith

The whistle sounded we’d made it; this year’s Heineken Cup final would be featuring Munster! It all started way back sometime in mid-July when we first met up for pre-season training. After being introduced to our new head coach Ger Greene. We were put through our paces to be fit and ready for our first competitive match of the year.

The training was finished it was now time to put into action all that Ger had taught us in the very little time he had to coach us. The first five games flew past and we were on a good winning streak, but my season was yet to kick into full-swing. Up until then I had played a combined 15 minutes for matches all coming after the end result had already been decided. Ger had noticed my lack of game time and handed me my first start as a senior Munster player in the following game. It was a massive game for the province as we were playing old rivals Leinster. I played out-half so naturally I got lots of touches and I had a steady start, finding touch, making all the right decisions and even kicking a 3 point penalty. Then, the worst thing that could possibly happen, a dropped ball. My first mistake in my first start. The next ball I received I got smashed by opposing fullback Rob Kearney. As time went on the mistake count rose and after just 2o minutes of my first game I had played the worst game that I could remember. I was substituted just before half time but oddly Ger kept his faith in me and had me once again on the bench for the next couple of league games, where once again he would give me the final ten minutes to show what I could offer. Nothing was the answer. I was on a run of terrible form, which gave the boss no choice but to drop me for the first round of the Heineken Cup, which took us to the south of France to face reigning champions Toulouse in their “back-garden” The Stade Felix Mayol. It was up to me to force my way back into the squad and back in form.

I trained well over the next couple of weeks but with the talents of JJ Hanrahan and Ian Keatley I couldn’t force my way into the squad to grab that elusive first Heineken cup cap. With the Heineken Cup Quarter finals looming Ian Keatley picked up an injury that would surely rule him out of action for the remainder of the club season. Surely I would be in the squad for the Quarter finals, I trained harder than ever before and sure enough I was named in Ger Greene’s first Heineken Cup quarter final team. With only twenty minutes left JJ shipped a massive hit and was not able to continue. I was sprung in to action my first job was to kick a long range penalty from just inside my own half. I hit it sweetly and it dropped just over the bar. The game was not going our way and with only five minutes left I was feeling great. The first time I got the ball into my hands I thought, I have to try it. I called a move which I always enjoyed practicing at training. My Cross-field kick flew straight into Jonie Murphy’s arms and he was away, under the posts for an easily convertible try. We were on our way back to the Stade Felix Mayol and I was back in form, form no one had ever seen before.

The semi-final went by without me getting touch of the ball. Ger had decided at the semi-final stage that he was going to make one of the biggest decisions of his short career to date. Pick me! It was the week leading up to the final. Ger brought JJ and me into the conference room in the team hotel; oddly I knew what was coming. He was picking me. JJ was dropped. He’d got us all this way and now his dreams were over. Ger never, to this day gave anyone a reason for that decision but I never questioned him on it.

As the world’s press was focused on the “new kid on the block” I could feel the tension rising around the Aviva. I knew I was going to have a huge part to play in this game. I once again started very steadily having kicked two penalties in the first ten minutes the game was tied at 6-6. Then out of nowhere the game started once again at a rate of knots which all the pundits said would suit Toulon. I was determined to prove them wrong. I dropped off into a “sweeper” like position and with every kick that Toulon would deliver I would pin them back right into their 22. While the game was broken, we turned over the ball and I shot up into our attacking line. I spotted the gap between the veteran Johnny Wilkinson and fellow senior Matt Giteau. I went for it. I was through one on one with Delon Armitage. With a quick step to the right I was past him and motoring past the ten meter line, past the 22 and over. With only seconds left until half time we were leading 13-6 and people were finally seeing what I had to give.

Toulon tried unsuccessfully to get the speed of the second half up the rate at which the first half was over, but with some very good tackling and me putting them back into their own half every time I touched the ball, they soon dropped their heads. I knew it was my chance to prove all the critics wrong. With some more precise kicking we had gained ourselves a line out only five meters from their line. I knew what was going to happen. As the forwards rumbled towards the line I shouted for extra support, all the remaining backs flew into the maul. Toulon’s backs were soon to follow and when the time was right I called for the ball, Conor Murray floated a beautiful pass into my hands and with a burst of speed I was gone past Johnny Wilkinson and once again I was under the posts for an easy conversion to make the score 26-12. With the game almost surely won and only about three minutes left I kept the kicking for the corners going. With only seconds remaining I called for the ball. I got it. The ball was off the pitch. The whistle went. We were champions of Europe for only the third time in the club’s history. Now, not only did everyone know who I was and know my name, I was also man of the match and all over the papers. Imagine all it took was a bit of faith.

Brian Rigney