Two options were available to this reporter on Thursday last after the last Munster Express of 2007 rolled off the presses.
One: head down the Cork Road to check out John Kelly’s 154th and final appearance in the red of Munster for the Magners Celtic League meeting with Connacht.
Or two: head for the cosier confines of home, stick on the central heating, click on the kettle and snuggle up for some meteorological inclemency-free rugby viewing.
Throwing in the fact that the night in question was the night after Stephen’s Night (that’s a whole lotta night – Ed), opting for a perch in front of the box proved the sensible option.
And as the rain sheeted across Musgrave Park with even greater ferocity than it did during Munster’s defeat to Leinster, it also looked as if I’d dodged a dance with pneumonia.
My goodness, do professional rugby players earn their corn or what? The past six weeks have seen the provinces lining out in some of the most atrocious playing conditions witnessed in recent years.
As Doug Howlett sits down to study the many match DVDs that Declan Kidney has surely readied for his Kiwi recruit, there’s little doubt he’ll be mightily impressed by what Munster have produced of late.
Quite what the All Blacks’ record try scorer will make of the weather will presumably be a different matter entirely.
Yeah, yeah, it’s not as if it doesn’t rain in New Zealand – it just doesn’t rain as regularly. Fáilte Dougie, we’ll look forward to seeing you mucking up!
Thursday’s 17-0 win over Connacht saw Munster produce another masterclass in the mud.
That Frankie Sheahan failed to find his lineout target on only one occasion from 10 throws – and that coming in the 85th minute of the match, speaks volumes for the quality of Munster’s display.
Once again they scrummaged excellently, with Freddie Pucciariello and the man mountain that is Tony Buckley producing time and a half performances on a surface which didn’t lend to secure footholds.
Donncha O’Callaghan is another who appears to have finally got the World Cup malaise out of his system and he was aided and abetted by another encouraging performance from the versatile Donnacha Ryan.
The back row was also excellent, with Niall Ronan showing great promise at open side while Denis Leamy produced another all-action effort at number six.
One presumes that the string the Cashel man has augmented his footballing bow with of late was not lost on the watching Eddie O’Sullivan and Niall O’Donovan.
Anthony Foley once again demonstrated his worth and experience in spades, and reminded one of how odd it will be not to see him at number eight in the not too distant future.
Foley remains an awesome presence in the Munster unit. On drenching nights such as Thursday last, and in the unforgettable tempest of Stradey Park, ‘Axel’ demonstrated all his great game playing and leadership qualities.
Taking quick taps, catching Connacht’s defensive line off guard during the second half, Foley showed how keen he is to carry the fight, one he looks capable of carrying on in red beyond this season.
The old adage of being old enough if you’re good enough is often used in sport when coaches give a greenhorn a chance to shine.
But surely if you’re good enough, you’re also young enough too – the contributions of Foley and Shaun Payne this season more than justifying that assertion.
In a game as attritional as rugby, to see Foley charging into the opposition with the same ferocity and commitment he’s been providing for over a decade is quite the sight to behold.
There’s no value that can be truly accredited to both the service and the quality of service which Foley continues to provide to coach and team mates alike.
The Killaloe man is a provincial treasure and there’s no reason to suggest that there isn’t plenty of good rugby left in him yet. Long may he continue.
With 10 minutes to half-time at Musgrave Park, the outcome of this interprovincial meeting was far from certain.
Munster required a decent lead at half-time and, when only six points up, knowing they’d be playing into a tornado after the break, there was no comfort zone in sight for the hosts.
Indeed, in open play, Connacht had produced several promising moments, with Gavin Duffy and young centre Daniel Riordan (remember the name) forcing full-back Denis Hurley into deep defensive cover.
But the Cork Con man enjoyed his night in the number 15 jersey, and didn’t produce a bum note all match long on a difficult evening for fielding. Hurley is definitely one to watch.
The same must also be said of Duffy, who looks to have an edge over Leinster’s Rob Kearney in the long-term stakes to succeed Girvan Dempsey in the Irish team.
Alas, two late Connacht indiscretions, one unfairly leading to a yellow card for David Gannon, were punished by the boot of Paul Warwick, to leave Munster 12 ahead at the break.
It was to prove a lead they would add to after the interval thanks to a Denis Leamy try after superb ball retention and equally impressive offloading from Pucciariello and Buckley.
Another encouraging display from an Irish perspective was produced by Jonny O’Connor, who enjoyed a good old knees-up with Peter Stringer all match long.
Like any good open side, the ex-Wasps man teetered on the offside line throughout the match and was a constant nuisance – another plus for O’Sullivan ahead of his Six Nations selection.
There’s a very good argument to be made for that Irish squad to be picked without a single Ulster representative such has been the paucity of the northerners’ season to date.
Their collapse, just 18 months since they won this particular title, has been quite astonishing and one hopes the Ravenhill rudder will soon be repaired and functional again.
It also appears that Connacht could have more than one member in the Irish squad for the first time in an eon, testament to the work Michael Bradley is overseeing in the west.
The Connacht Branch is devoting enormous energy to promoting the game at underage level and the Sportsground is a much improved venue these days.
Were the province to qualify for next season’s European Cup (and they’ve a more than decent chance of doing so), the impetus it would provide the game locally would be enormous. Quite what damage such a scenario would mean for Ulster is another matter entirely.
At the other end of the table, Munster remain in contention with leaders Leinster in what’s slowly burning into a decent title race.
A win in Belfast ahead of the trip to Clermont Auvergne would provide Kidney and co with the ideal impetus ahead of another massive European away day, disgracefully scheduled on a Sunday afternoon I might add.
Only one question remains: when will Doug Howlett pull on the red jersey? It’s one of several fascinating prospects that January 2008 provides Munster fans with.