UP to 10,000 Munster fans are expected to head to Marseille this weekend for the Heineken Cup semi-final against champions Toulon.
Munster’s players have often put on the record their appreciation for the lengths their supporters go to in order to attend European away games.
And few can have put in as much effort as Robert Gloster from Corbally, who won’t let a fear of flying prevent him from cheering on Munster in the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.
An accountant, Robert calculates that it will take him a little over 24 hours to travel from Limerick to Marseilles – by train, bus, tram and boat – including a stop-off in London for breakfast and in Paris for lunch. Quel dommage!
The trip involves the train from Limerick to Dublin; a sleeping cabin on the ferry to Holyhead, a train to London; the Eurostar to Paris and the TGV (France’s high speed rail) to Marseille.
“My daughter is doing the Leaving Cert so my wife and my daughter can’t travel. But my son is flying out on Saturday and we can meet out there,” said Robert.
“I never liked flying. The last time I flew was after our last visit to San Sebastian [Munster versus Biarritz in 2010]. But I won’t unless I really have to. It would have to be a matter of life or death for me to fly.
“This is probably the sixth or seventh time I have gone to the south of France in this way. I’ve been to Toulon this way. I was in Perpignan at Christmas. I was obviously in Montpelier last April and I have been to Toulouse on at least two occasions so it’s nothing new to me.”
With Toulon’s highly paid stars heavily favoured by the bookies to make it to a second consecutive final, does Robert fancy Munster’s chances of making his epic journey worthwhile?
“Like last year [against Clermont]I think it will be close. It was the bounce of a ball last year. In many ways, as individuals the Clermont players were far better than ours but rugby is a team sport and we nearly beat them. I think it will be critical to hold the line for the first 30 minutes and if we do that it is all to play for,” said Robert. “I’m getting back on Tuesday, which happens to be my birthday. I am expecting somebody to give me a couple of tickets for the final.”
Another heading to Marseille, but by a more conventional route, is Ian Buckley, who is a member of the committee with the Munster Rugby Supporters Club. He is one of a legion of fans who have snapped up the special charters out of Shannon Airport as scheduled services to the south of France this weekend began to fill up after Munster’s quarter-final win against Toulouse.
“I’ll be going myself on the day trip on the Sunday morning with Munster Sports Travel [out of Shannon Airport].”
“We’ve never hit Marseille before and it hasn’t been the easiest of places for people to get to in terms of cost because all the airlines seem to be in and around the same pricewise.
“Whereas if it was some place like Paris it would have been easier to get to and given people more options. You’re talking about a full day if you were trying to get here on ferries and then on again so it makes it that bit more difficult. So I think to have five or six thousand people there is still very good,” said Mr Buckley.
On Munster’s prospects, he said Munster fans were normally known as “a gung-ho and optimistic bunch”.
“But they are wary, having been in Montpelier last year and just coming up short, not to let themselves get too optimistic. There’s a quiet confidence but still an air of nervousness. Normally I wouldn’t get hit by any nerves or butterflies until the morning of a game but this whole week I’ve been waking up with butterflies in my stomach.”
“There have been a lot of seminal moments in Munster rugby over the years and this kind of feels like it could be another one of them this weekend. I’m pretty optimistic they can pull it out of the fire. A lot of others are as well but they don’t want to say it too loud just yet,” said Ian.
The Munster Rugby Supporters Club said that 4,000 tickets for the game had been sold to Munster fans before the tickets had to be returned to the ERC.
Fans looking for tickets could still purchase them from the Stade Velodrome website (www.lenouveaustadevelodrome.com) which is bilingual.
A number of watering holes have been designated as official meeting points for Munster fans in Marseille. These are The Shamrock and O’Malleys, both on Quai de Rive Neuve, and O’Brady’s Irish Bar at 378 Avenue de Mazargues, which is only a 15 to 20 minute walk from the stadium.
Follow the Limerick Leader’s Colm Kinsella on Twitter for updates and reports from Marseille throughout the weekend and see Monday’s Limerick Leader for pictures, reports and analysis.