Knock on affect: Andrew Conway of Munster is dispossessed by Stephen Fitzgerald of Connacht in the in-goal area. Will Munster fans turn up this weekend for their final home game of the season?
TWELVE months ago this weekend, Munster played their final home fixture of the season at Thomond Park where the official attendance for their Guinness PRO14 semi-final play-off was given at just 10,205.
Knock-out rugby on the May Bank Holiday weekend in bright sunshine.
Munster host competition surprise packets Benetton Rugby in another Pro14 semi-final play-off this Saturday, 3pm.
Again it’s a Bank Holiday weekend fixture and once more the weather conditions for the game is predicted to be pleasant.
Incidentally, the official attendance at Parc y Scarlets for the Scarlets Pro14 semi-final play-off with the Toyota Cheetahs 12 months ago was 7,105.
But attendances at Munster’s home fixtures are traditionally higher than the Scarlets.
So why was Thomond Park less than half full for the province’s final make-or-break home game of the season 12 months ago? And let’s face it, the chances of the attendance being any bigger this weekend than the 10,000 who turned out for that Edinburgh fixture in 2018 are remote.
It’s worth casting an eye back two years ago to provide some answers.
For Munster’s glamour Champions Cup semi-final with Saracens at the Aviva Stadium in 2017, thousands of Munster fans endured lengthy traffic tailbacks on their way to Dublin.
A series of accidents on the route caused frustrating delays for the fans making their way to Dublin. Some even missed the start of the game at Lansdowne Road despite leaving in ample time from Limerick.
Munster were second best against ‘Sarries’ that day and the dream of winning a third European Cup – and first in 9 years – died.
Defeat in Europe sucks the life out of the rugby season for a good chunk of Munster’s support – no doubt about it. We have seen it season after season.
Twelve months ago, Munster returned tickets for their Pro14 semi-final showdown with Leinster at the RDS.
In May 2017, Munster returned to Dublin for a Guinness Pro 14 final showdown with the Scarlets, a few short weeks after that Champions Cup semi-final loss to Saracens.
The game offered Munster the opportunity to win silverware for the first time in six long seasons. The match venue amounted to home country advantage for Munster.
But this time there were no tailbacks on the M7 between Limerick and Dublin, no lengthy delays.
Munster did enjoy the lions share of support inside the ground as you would expect, but it was clear that a significant chunk of that support was Dublin-based, Munster fans.
The Munster-based, Munster support didn’t turn out in the same numbers for the Scarlets final as they had done for the Saracens semi-final.
The situation highlights Munster fans' love-affair with Europe – a fact borne out when an estimated 6,000 Munster fans travelled to Bordeaux in the South West of France for the 2018 Champions Cup semi-final with Racing 92.
To be fair, sunny Bordeaux is a very attractive match destination at the end of April as was Edinburgh for this season’s quarter-final.
The number of Munster supporters who travelled to Coventry for the recent semi-final with Sarries was significantly reduced.
That brings us back to this Saturday and the likely turn-out for the visit of a much improved Benetton Rugby side to Limerick.
Bank Holiday Saturday, the prospect of good weather. Let’s see.
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