<song>Peter Stringer facing the twilight years</song>
There was no easy way for it to happen. This was the hard way. For
Munster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Gloucester in 2008
Peter Stringer was dropped. For 10 years he had been the Munster
No 9. Others wore the jersey in that time knowing that it belonged to
Stringer. He had started every pool match that season. Then, without
him, Munster won. Two months later they lifted the trophy. In their
three knock-out matches Stringer didn’t leave the bench. Not for a
minute. Not needed. Suddenly.
Nobody suggested that the marriage of Stringer and Munster was at
an end but in the family home they were sleeping in different rooms
and behind the public face of their relationship there was heartache.
That season had started for Stringer with Ireland’s flop at the World
Cup and his exclusion from the match-day 22 for Ireland’s final two
matches. To deal with the trauma of that experience the best
available therapy was a winter in the red jersey. For all the other
tormented Munster players in the Irish squad, winning the Heineken
Cup amounted to glorious redemption. Stringer got a medal, cold,
without the feeling.
Professional sportspeople are supposed to cope. We assume that it’s
hard-wired into their mentality. But it is not a mechanical process.
Hurt complicates everything. “People were coming up to me and I
suppose at the start I was nearly embarrassed for whatever reason.
Within myself, I felt I was leaving people down. I felt ashamed. All
these things go through your head when something like that
happens. The last thing you want to do is meet people and I suppose
people are walking on egg shells around you.
“I suppose that quarter-final, semi-final and final, not getting a
minute on the pitch for those games was probably the most difficult
experience I’ve had in a Munster jersey. I found myself in a position
over the years where I was playing week-in, week-out. That comes
naturally and it’s such a shock to the system when you’re not
playing. You do feel isolated from what’s going on.
“Coaches tell you that it’s a 30-man thing and you’re there
‘Whatever, whatever’. And it is. But for certain guys it’s hard to
accept that. For me it definitely was hard to accept it there and then
because everyone wants to be on the pitch. I found myself in a place
— at that early stage — of not knowing how to feel about the whole
thing. Now, a couple of years down the line, you do really appreciate
being involved but I maybe didn’t understand that fully when it first
The other aspect of coping was that it was, by prescription, a private
thing. In the Munster set-up there is no tolerance for sulking and no
market for pity. After a personal disappointment you’re allowed a
day to look beaten up. After that, you find a way to mask the
“I’d be very much a person that keeps to myself a lot of the time. I
enjoy the craic with the lads but I’ve always probably been a bit of
an outsider. The fact of not drinking — on a social level that always
comes in and it’s quite difficult to deal with. I enjoy my own company
and I’m able to go off and do things on my own. Go off in the car on
my own. I travel on my own to training. I enjoy the sense of freedom
of being on my own when I need to.
“It was very much a personal thing to keep the head down and keep
working away without anybody knowing what I was doing or seeing
any disappointment within me. I suppose I’m not one for putting it
out there. I very much didn’t want the lads seeing that I suppose.
When people see that, they lose confidence in you and that’s no