The old clichéd quote that football is a 'game of two halves` is very much overused in various tabloid reporting circles, however the old adage could not be more apt for the game between the Munster select XI and Sunderland on Tuesday night.
It turned out to be a turbulent two day jaunt over the Irish Sea and that was without including the boisterous weather encountered around Gatwick`s airspace. The cons nearly always outnumber the pros when you`re an exiled fan, but in the case of travelling to the far west of the Republic of Ireland to see the lads play, then residing in the geographical location of Wiltshire, proved to be my advantage this time. As native North East fans chose the ferry or to fly to Dublin and hike it from there, due to the fact that no direct flights were available to the emerald isle`s west coast from Ponteland`s airstrip, I was afforded the luxury for once of a direct flight into Shannon airport, allowing the two of us hardy travellers to arrive in Limerick, fresh as a daisy, ready to implode into copious amounts of Guinness and the like.
I was informed that the unofficial nickname for Limerick was 'stab city` only days before my expected arrival and so my personal visions of the place were somewhat negative to say the least. It proved to be a non-starter as the people there, soon welcomed us in, asking if we were here for the match and of course offering a drink or two, even the sight of sawdust on the floor of one particular watering hole, did not dampen the mood.
The match itself was never going to be a classic, the lads playing their first slice of competitive football since May and this was mirrored in Steve Bruce`s starting eleven, with the inclusion of the likes of George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand and Daryl Murphy - whom if I had known would be playing, then my boarding cards would have been ripped up in the departure lounge! This trio did not disappoint, and were nothing short of a shambles, although the two main culprits vying for the title of chief oxygen thief were Nyron Nosworthy and Kenwyne Jones. Even taking into consideration this was a friendly, how Nyron can don the red and white cloth of Sunderland again is beyond me, hopefully these colours will be worn by the defender come the new season, albeit with Sheffield United emblazoned on them. *Note: If any of Sheffield United`s board are reading this then Nyron had a stormer and would be a most valuable asset to your club! Nuggsy displayed his unique talent from the off, with a miskick, followed up by the first touch of an elephant. Constantly caught out by the Irish forwards, it was safe to say Nosworthy is deadwood that requires chopping down.
Jones on the other hand when he decides he wants to play football is an unbelievable attacking option, with top defenders commenting that he is unplayable, winning every header in the air. Unfortunately, it was the other Kenwyne Jones that was on show at Thormond Park - you know the lazy, lost soul full of apathy, looking every the inch the part of a man who doesn`t want to be there. Again taking the friendly element into account, his display was still nothing short of shocking and it came as no surprise then that Sunderland went in at half time 1-0 down.
The interval served up the majority of the entertainment of the night in what can only be described as organised chaos. Father Ted doesn`t do circus road shows, but if he did then this would be taken straight off the page of the script from Craggy Island. Marching Kazoo bands, hurling, rugby, Gaelic football, two 100 metres sprints featuring an array of local celebrities and athletes, as the Sunderland substitutes warmed up and the players to be substituted warmed down. Sheer madness! All this accompanied by a local commentator with the style and panache of Father Dougal. Things could only get better…surely.
The second half saw a host of changes which included Michael Turner, Matthew Kilgannon, the impressive Phil Bardsley and the eventual match winning performance from Steed Malbranque. Sunderland were and looked a different side in a half which could have seen them fire six or seven past the home side. In the end it was youngster Martyn Waghorn who made the breakthrough with a brace and at this stage of pre season could look to emulate what Jordan Henderson did last year and grace the starting eleven in the Premier League. Waghorn`s free kick in particular the highlight of the game. It came as a shame for the lad, when on bursting into the box; the young striker fell awkwardly and left the field on a stretcher.
The game ended with a 2-1 victory to Sunderland, which was duly celebrated in style, downtown Limerick, resulting in a 4am finish and a 7am start the same day, in order to catch the return flight home.
And so a game of two halves and two Sunderland teams was had. I only hope this Jekyll and Hyde nature of Steve Bruce`s charges, evident for most of last season and rearing its ugly head here, can disappear in time for the beginning of the new campaign and the removal of stagnant squad players can help rectify this further.