Last Saturday morning started like any other. But there was a different feeling in the air. A tangible electricity that you could almost taste. Last Saturday was the showdown between Leinster and Toulouse. For every Leinster face it was the biggest day of the year and for me 3.30pm could not come quick enough.
Every time Leinster play I get the same mixture of nerves and excitement running through me. Maybe it’s because I have followed them from been nearly men to Heineken Cup winners and I have shared in both the good and the bad times that the team have faced. But Saturday was different. Along with the nerves and excitement there was a bubbling confidence. I felt, deep down, that no matter what Toulouse threw at Leinster it wouldn’t be enough. I prayed I was right.
One of the great joys of going to see a live sports event is the walk to the ground. It’s there where the atmosphere builds and where fans and friends dissect the match and put forward their opinion on what might happen in the game.
Walking to the Aviva you could feel how big this game was. You could see it in the eyes of the fans. A group of us settled down to watch the Munster game before kick- off but every so often one would glance at the clock or fiddle with their sleeve. The nerves had set in and even though events in Thomand Park brought a collective smile to the Leinster supporter’s faces you could see that today was about taking care of business. Soon it would be time for the main action of the day.
Inside the bowls of the Aviva confidence was beginning to grow among Leinster supporters.” We will destroy them” one fan confidently declared. I couldn’t tell if he was full of confidence or Heineken but I hoped he was right.
Before kick -off I stood beside the pitch and looked around the stadium. It was like the calm before the storm. The stadium was yawing into life and before long it was throbbing with noise and colour. I took my seat and prepared myself.
That noise was silenced when Toulouse scored a freak try after five minutes. The crowd were stunned. Slowly but surely though the crowd regained their voice. Cries of “Leinster Leinster” echoed around the stadium as Leinster fought back and took the game to Toulouse. “It’s electric in here” my friend shouted at me. He wasn’t wrong.
Each passage of good Leinster play brought the crowd to its feet. They willed them on to score and cursed them when they didn’t. Then the moment came that the crowd had been waiting for. The first try. There was a hush when play was stopped but slowly a cheer began breaking out which turned into hysteria as the try was given. If the stadium could have taken off it would have.
After a breathless first half the supporters I talked to began to dream. “It’s our year” one declared at half time. There was also a sense that Toulouse were not out of this game. Not by a long shot. The crowd were reenergised and found their voice in the second half and pushed Leinster on. But when Toulouse would attack a fear gripped the crowd. Only when possession was back with Leinster did the crowd breathe easy again.
It was only when Brian O Driscoll scored the second Leinster try that the crowd began to dream. They could see the final. But it was a while away yet. “The last ten minutes felt like ten years” another fan said after the game.
The final whistle was greeted with a tremendous roar that was tinged with relief and exhaustion. “What a game” I said to the poor lad who had to sit beside me. His flushed cheeks spoke more than words.
Before I left the stadium I had one look back. The electricity that was there before the game was replaced with star dust. There was a magic in the air that only happens every so often. I think they call it blue magic.