I’m sitting on the plane en route to Edinburgh for the Heineken Cup final on Saturday morning as I begin this week’s column by scribbling a few notes on the back of a sick bag! Everybody is in great form, even though it’s been a tough week.
I’ve trained hard all week, twice on Monday and once each day subsequently. We’d had an early morning rendezvous in the club at 7.00 to head off to Scotland but this was great, as it meant only one night in a hotel before the match compared to last year, when we had two nights in London. Sometimes being together too long before a match can be a negative and it can be better to have your own home comforts – especially for the French.
Stade Francais went over on the Friday and funnily enough the hotel they booked into was heavily booked with weddings and receptions, complete with loud bands, so they had to transfer to another hotel on the Saturday.
I spent most of the afternoons chilling out beside the pool in the back of Alfie’s house, which he has just bought and moved in to near ours. He reckons I get too wound up before big matches so he was trying to take my mind off the final by bringing me in to town or chilling out beside the pool with a magnum. As the sun was splitting down we were looking at the case of bulmers we had cooling on a shelf as a prize to get stuck into the same time next week if we won the final. That case won’t last
too long now.
Match day came and it was a fantastic atmosphere in Murrayfield. I was surprised at the amount of red and black in the stadium, and the boys’ performance which they bought in for the 100 minutes. I’d never played 100-plus minutes in my life and I was obviously delighted to last the whole game, switching from six to the secondrow, and I felt it went well for me on the day.
All week Guy Noves had been saying in he team talks that I was a stronger man than him now for taking five punches in the Castres game without giving one back. Always watching my discipline. But it was great to hear that from a man like him. “If Trevor Brennan can do it lads, any of you can,” he told the boys.
Before the game he went around to every single one of us, looking us in the eye and selectively picking out something about our games. I know it wasn’t a great game, partly I think, because we just know each other too well. With the television coverage over here the amount of video research by both teams on each other is just incredible.
It was great to hold them scoreless for the last 60 minutes, especially as they were hammering away at our line at times and we just didn’t gave away a penalty or fall off a tackle. Guy Noves had told us that discipline would win this final.
The second half especially flew by and I didn’t realise Jean-Baptiste Elissalde’s fourth penalty to make it 12-all was so near the end. Suddenly the ref blew his whistle and we were in to extra time. Then, from somewhere, we all got a surge of energy. We went into a huddle after 80 minutes and said right, this next 20 minutes was everything. We
have them now on the back foot and now we were really going to go for them.
Guys were going down with cramp. When Finau Maka went down with five minutes to go I was shouting at him. “Get up, the next five minutes of your life are everything.” And that’s the way it felt to me. When we went three points ahead I was pushing and shoving David Gerard to get the next kick-off again, which he did. All the subs made a difference, as Guy Noves said they would have to do if we were to win this match.
Everybody seemed to get more vocal in encouraging each other. Don’t let anything go. Encore, encore. Allez, allez. Everything counted now. When Freddy Michalak landed that drop goal we knew it was ours to lose. The full-time whistle was a fantastic feeling. I immediately picked out my father, my brothers, my uncles and my friends and I jumped up into the stand. I was draped in the tri colour and did a lap with the guys.
I had a few beers with Alfie in the dressing-room before he headed off on Lions duty. He had to be at that match in Cardiff and an hour later I was getting a text from him saying he was having a beer on his own in the airport. After the shower, the phone was hopping. I went through a sea of red and black to put my bag on the bus, but it seemed to be more red with the amount of Munster fans there who had bought tickets in advance hoping their team would be there. With the Toulouse players and
supporters looking on curiously, I sang the Fields of Athenry with them and it felt like I had my picture taken with every Munster fan who was at the match.
I said goodbye to the family and friends – they were heading off to the airport – and went to the reception. I felt on top of the world. Last week, like I said, I knew what it was like to win a Heineken Cup final and I knew what it was like to lose one, and I did not want the second feeling again.
When we arrived back at 1.30 in the airport Blagnac was black. Everyone was chanting Guy Noves’ name because of the incident after the game, and “liber-te, liber-te, liber-te,”. “Free-dom, free-dom, free-dom.” He got a fair bit of stick.
As it was late and we all had to get up for work the next morning, we went home early. Yea, some chance. Half went to a disco, the others to the bar, and a great night was had by all. I’ve spent the last two days suffering. As is tradition in Toulouse, the trophy was put on show on the balcony at the Place du Capitol for about 7-8,000 people on Monday evening.
I was talking to my mother-in-law Catherine yesterday. “Who’s your favourite son-in-law?” I said, laughing. She said it would take more than a Heineken Cup medal to make me her favourite son-in-law. She’s a devoutly religious woman, and I’d asked her to light three candles for me, one for the first-half and two for the second. She said I hadn’t warned her about the possibility of extra-time, and when we were losing 12-9 near the end she blew them out. Then when she returned to the television she saw that we’d drawn level, she lit the candle again and apologised to the sacred heart for not having faith in her.
Her prayers were answered, and we’ve won the Heineken Cup again.
An interview with Gerry Thornley