Munster coach Tony McGahan knows his team is losing the early initiative it had seized in the Magners League. Victory over Ulster next Saturday is now essential following defeat in Galway.

Munster coach Tony McGahan knows his team is losing the early initiative it had seized in the Magners League. Victory over Ulster next Saturday is now essential following defeat in Galway.

The last time Connacht got one over Munster on their own patch, Pope John Paul II was the most famous person to visit our island in that particular year.

Jack Lynch was head of a Fianna Fáil government that had clearly made a litany of election promises it couldn’t live up to (some things never change) and ‘YMCA’ was the biggest tune on Irish radio. Yes indeed, this one was a long time coming, but in the end it was richly deserved.

That the Connacht players rejoiced in so fulsome a manner upon Alain Rolland’s final whistle was perfectly understandable.

Almost three decades without a home win against their illustrious neighbours tends to bring out the kid within – and the buzz among supporters strolling back to Eyre Square clearly indicated that the feeling was endemic among Connacht fans. The victor had truly earned the spoils.

Theirs had been a wholehearted, fully committed effort all match long and they had played with the bit between their teeth throughout, never losing hope despite being frustrated for long periods by Munster’s defence.

Two of their three wins in the Magners League this season have now been recorded against Leinster and Munster, which is pretty extraordinary when you consider the heavy defeats they’ve incurred elsewhere.

Indeed, if this was an old interprovincial campaign, Munster would be sitting bottom of the domestic rankings given that their only other league defeat this term was recorded in Ravenhill.

Despite the defeat, Munster remain top of the pile, but now by just three points from the Ospreys following this unexpected reversal at a sold-out Sportsground.

So a bumper night at the turnstiles was augmented by an outstanding Connacht display, albeit against a Munster team that, worryingly, is still searching for some consistency.

Not for the first time this season, the Munster pack suffered in the set piece, with the scrum rarely affording a decent attacking platform, while the lineout looked even dicier. It’s been quite some time since the all-round pack display from Munster has proven so underwhelming.

The situation wasn’t helped by the shoulder injury that forced Frankie Sheahan (himself a late stand-in for Jerry Flannery) out of action, thus propelling converted back-row Michael Essex into the hooking slot.

Tony Buckley had another of those uncertain nights at loose head and serious question marks linger over the towering prop’s ability to fill John Hayes’s boots in the longer term.

That too, of course, means Declan Kidney has got something to worry about whenever the remarkable Hayes decides to concentrate on his farming.

A great cameo performer Buckley may be, but producing 80 consistent minutes week in, week out is what it’s all about at this level, something Tony McGahan is acutely aware of.

“I thought Connacht played very well, full of fire, full of passion,” said a disappointed Munster coach after a night to forget for the league leaders. “I thought they took their chances very well.

“We knew it was going to be a difficult game…not enough patience and individual errors led to us playing well below the standards that we need to.” And there were errors aplenty from a Munster side who did most of their best work without the ball, hardly the way in which one aims to win titles.

That the four penalties which ultimately titled the tie in Connacht’s favour were all conceded in less than difficult kicking positions for the excellent Ian Keatley shall also rankle with the coach.

Fouling clever is something that teams can achieve in rugby from time to time, but, as it was away to Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup, Munster were punished for all indiscretions committed within shooting distance.

Keatley, whose penalty kicking routine is reminiscent of a stereotypical London Bobby, kicked superbly off the tee and in open play all night, displaying O’Gara-like vision at times.

Behind him at full-back, Gavin Duffy demonstrated the depth of quality number 15s the Irish game currently possesses with a stirring all-round display which featured only a few minor indiscretions.

His fielding, as was the case with Keith Earls at the other end, was quite exceptional, as Duffy dealt with several Garryowens in a commanding manner.

Constantly seeking out the ball, Duffy was one of many confident spearheaded performers who inspired Connacht to one of the most famous wins in its modern history.

“They are good enough to analyse that performance for themselves,” according to their delighted coach Michael Bradley.

“I think Gavin Duffy had an excellent game, John Mul [Muldoon] was out for eight weeks and put in a performance like that, Sean Cronin as well. There was a couple more as well. Munster had a lot of internationals playing in that game today and they weren’t able to make an impact at all.”

Indeed, two of the biggest impacts made by Munster on the night led to yellow cards being shown to both Niall Ronan and Doug Howlett, the latter’s absence compounded by Keatley’s bisecting the uprights with two match-winning penalties.

At half-time, Connacht led 6-3, a slender advantage considering the territory and possession they had enjoyed in the opening half. But with Mick O’Driscoll and Donnacha Ryan getting through a mountain load of work in the tight, Munster repeatedly sent the hosts on the back foot.

Yet playing the game without the ball is infinitely harder than the alternative and also means having to make lots of energy-sapping hits.

That Munster continue to miss the presence of Rua Tipoki or Trevor Halstead (the latter cited by a clubmate, I have to say), someone who will get through the unsexy stuff in midfield, is beyond dispute.

Fine players Lifeimi Mafi and Barry Murphy might be, but neither can kick a door in, so to speak, in a manner similar to Tipoki, still out of contention due to the injury picked up against the All Blacks.

Yes, there was no Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell or Donncha O’Callaghan on the sod for Munster, but 10 of those starting Sunday’s game had faced the All Blacks from the off in Thomond Park.

So to any Munster fan citing the ‘weakness’ of last weekend’s selected team – well, to be blunt, you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Ulster will present another testy league challenge at Thomond Park next Saturday night, with Munster’s team and staff safe in the knowledge than this next interpro is simply all about winning.