Playoff memories: Munster, 30th May 2015

This was the big one. Glasgow’s second consecutive PRO12 Grand Final and, while it may not have been the home game they had hoped for, there was the consolation of not having to take on Munster on their own patch. What followed at the Kingspan Stadium was the greatest day in the club’s history – so far…

10 hours before kick-off
Cairnryan ferry terminal

There were Warriors’ fans spilling out all over the concourse, basking in the sunshine as they prepared to embark on the next stage of the journey to Belfast. It was like a fashion parade of Glasgow jerseys; the young ones had the latest gear; there were some of the Mackintosh-inspired efforts; here and there a smattering of the Jackson Pollockesque paint splats. Many and varied styles tracing back through the seasons referencing sponsors (FloGas, Highland Spring) and shades of blue that had come and gone. The real veterans were proudly displaying their district colours from a time when this sort of event might have seemed unimaginable.

Tea, coffee, beer and hipflasks – even a half bottle of Buckie – were doing the rounds. Everyone was finding their own way to steel themselves for the day ahead. Deja vu after last year in Dublin? Or maybe unbridled joy? Everyone prepared for a rollercoaster – and that’s not even taking into account the ferry crossing! A group of fans joined together to enjoy the day and make the most of the chance to support their team.

8 minutes on the clock

As ways to settle the nerves of the Warriors’ fans Rob Harley’s try is none too shabby. From the Family Stand end it’s remarkable just how easy Leone Nakarawa makes creating a score look. A 6’7″ tall 17 stone behemoth stepping past Munster players like they aren’t there. This is just the start for the giant Fijian. On the Warriors’ greatest day he puts on arguably the greatest individual performance by any Warriors’ player in the club’s history.

Having missed Glasgow’s previous two games Rob Harley is champing at the bit to get stuck in. Most of his afternoon is spent going to the dark places at the tackle and ruck, putting his body where he must know it is going to hurt – seemingly without a second thought. Here though is a rare chance to take some glory. The finish is classic Harley, for his only try of the season. From 7 yards out he’s an unstoppable missile with no chance anyone was coming between him and grounding the ball. Cue bedlam.

1 hour before kick-off
Family Stand, Kingspan Stadium

The place was awash with Weegies. For those who had been around the block a bit it was actually quite emotional to see the support flooding in many miles from home. They were there because after all the hard work and effort it had taken to build the club to that point, there was the chance to grab something tangible, something that announced to the rugby world that the Warriors had arrived and they were serious. No longer the soft touches. No longer there to make up the numbers for the Welsh and Irish sides.

Big Al was leading the charge in the warm-ups, geeing up the crowd. There was almost no need though. The fans were hyped. The fans were ready to deliver a wall of noise. The cheers; the groans of frustration; and through it all the chants. One in particular captured the mood of the day. A new anthem, a song of the time and also for the future, seemingly inspired by Gordy Reid himself. “We Are Warriors” rang out again and again and again as the fans tried to give as much of themselves as they could to support the men in black.

25 minutes on the clock

Having made a stunning comeback from the bench seven days earlier, DTH van der Merwe, the greatest try scorer in the club’s history, is ready to go. The Canadian winger provided the finish to a dramatic score in the semi-final and he follows it up with another illustration of his predatory instincts in the final. Things are already looking ominous for Munster – and joyful for Glasgow. Even this early, there is a very different feel to the game compared to the incredibly tight victory over Ulster.

DTH’s previous try came almost through sheer force of will. 14 phases of brutal collisions. Those sitting in the West Stand at Scotstoun could hear the impacts of the huge hits going in just yards away. Today is different. Today Glasgow are finding the gaps, the weak shoulders. The attack is firing, giving joyful expression to the systems and, most of all, the mentality Gregor Townsend introduced when he arrived at the club 3 seasons earlier.

2 hours after kick-off

Party time. The players on the pitch were like giddy children – Gordon Reid and Niko Matawalu leading the way. Either Gordy had a stolen bottle of champagne concealed in his shorts or he was really pleased to win the league…For the fans even after having most of the second half to get used to the idea there was still an air of disbelief. Glasgow are champions? Is this real? Years of sitting watching English, French, Irish, Welsh teams winning domestic and international trophies. Of thinking “maybe that’s never going to be us.”

All that was swept away in one moment as Al Kellock lifted the trophy to the heavens with the biggest smile you’re ever likely to see plastered across his face. For the big man personally there were the 157 games it took to get to this point. Years and years of effort as teammates came and went. Driving standards as the club took many step forwards (and the occasional one back). The knowledge that in his very last game the Warriors had achieved the unthinkable.

31 minutes on the clock

Sometimes tries represent more than just 5 points in a game. Glasgow’s third one feels like redemption. 12 months earlier Stuart Hogg was exiled from the matchday squad for the playoff semi and final. 2014/15 had been the season he had really got his head down and came out to show the Warriors’ coaches, players and fans just how much he could contribute to the cause. He started things off with the winning kick against Leinster in Round 1 of the PRO12. He puts Glasgow in almost complete control of the final not long before half-time against Munster. He may not have scored but this is Hoggy’s try.

It’s heads up rugby at its best, with mismatches created by the hard work of the Glasgow pack, dragging the Munster defenders this way and that until Dave Kilcoyne finds himself marking Hoggy. The loosehead prop never stands a chance. For the third time in a little over half an hour a Warrior is touching down right in front of the ecstatic support in the Family Stand. It’s Henry Pyrgos’s turn on this occasion. The scrum half has had to win the number 9 shirt the hard way and he has earned his moment in the spotlight.

17 hours after kick-off
Glasgow Airport

After a late night ferry full of tired but very contented Warriors’ fans a 4am return to Glasgow topped off with an early morning start meant that bed was beckoning. But then the forums started buzzing with the news that the team were delayed in Belfast overnight. Who was up for welcoming them back to Glasgow airport? A chance to prolong the celebrations? It had to be done.

It was one of the more surreal mid-mornings most of those present would have experienced. There were plenty of tired bodies. A few hangovers starting to kick in. Mixed in amongst it a smattering of people waiting to see emo boyband 5 Seconds of Summer who were also due to touch down in Glasgow that morning. When Big Al and Sean Lamont walked through the doors, trophy in hand, it felt just as good as the night before in Belfast. A special time for some special people and a special club.

58 minutes on the clock

There is a rally of sorts from Munster after the Warriors’ three try blast. Andrew Smith crosses for a score. Paul O’Connell (in his final game for the province) is somehow held up over the line early in the second half. Glasgow need a clincher, something to put the exclamation mark on this victory. The man who had done so much to shape the Warriors’ improvement over the previous 18 months is the one to step up again.

It had taken Finn Russell until his 30th game before he bagged his first try for the club. Against Ulster in Round 22 a couple of weeks earlier he ended up with a crucial double in the bonus point win that guided the club to the top of the league table – and a home semi-final. The Muscle had clearly found the taste for it and adds another in the Grand Final after shifting the Munster defensive line left then right before opting to do it himself and gliding over untouched.

12 days after kick-off

On a beautiful summer’s day the Warrior Nation came out in force to acclaim their team. George Square was a sea of blue flags as the fans, coaches and players united for one last exuberant celebration of the club’s success before this group scattered. Some were off for holidays then international duty ahead of the World Cup. Some would have a brief hiatus in their Glasgow careers. Some would never be Warriors again. This squad of players, this team would never play another game together. No matter what came next, no-one who was privileged enough to be a part of this, however tangentially, will ever forget what they achieved.

73 minutes on the clock

After so many years of struggling to get here, of never quite believing that Glasgow were a match for the very top tier of teams there is still a feeling with a 15 point lead that there’s a chance Munster might still come back. Looking back now it seems ridiculous. The Warriors are in almost total control of the game for the vast majority of the 80 minutes.

That’s the nature of being a fan though. Always veering between the highs and lows. Seeing the best and the worst. Fearing that joy unconfined will be snatched away in the cruelest fashion. It’s only when Duncan Weir bangs over a penalty to make 31-13 with six minutes to play that the practical side of the brain starts to take over. There simply isn’t enough time remaining for Munster to get three tries on the board. It is that last five minutes when the tension ebbs away. The singing is still going but it’s just the fans enjoying themselves now, celebrating what their heroes are doing. Gettting ready to start the party…

9 years and 18 days before kick-off
Firhill Stadium

2005/06 was a very tough season for the Warriors. If the Celtic League had done relegation battles then Glasgow would have been right in the mix for eviction from the tournament. As it was a vanguard of hardy souls had just witnessed a rare victory in the second last game of the season against the Scarlets. Official attendance was 1,014 but that must have included every ticket sold, including season book holders, as there was no way the actual numbers there broke four figures. It had been more than six months since the Firhill crowd had last seen their team win a league match and motivation to turn up had waned for many.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight the first green shoots of building into a playoff team were there. Sean Lineen had just taken over and his recruitment and coaching would turn the Warriors into a much more difficult side to beat. Young talent like John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie had become first team regulars, learning the hard way through some very tough defeats. Al Kellock’s arrival as captain was just around the corner.

Glasgow fans had learned to enjoy the small moments – including seeing the likes of those young players develop. The rare wins had to be celebrated to remind the faithful that it wasn’t all bad. None of this diminished the sting though when Glasgow were smashed away to Connacht two weeks later and finished dead last, bottom of the league. This was the lowest point. This was where the 9 year journey to victory in the Grand Final began.

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