Perhaps it is unfair to label tonight as the definitive end to the Munster era. The decline has been slow, but inexorable ever since Leinster savagely flipped the seat of power in Irish rugby at Croke Park as far back as 2009.
Tonight though, it felt like it was book-ended. Apart from Keith Earls' scything break, it was a performance lacking cohesion, structure and sadly even attitute. It felt like the acceptence that this is the end of one chapter.
Yet this season started so bright. Munster's coruscating run in the group stage of the Heineken cup hinted at another glorious generation.To be in Thomand Park the night ROG crushed Northampton was a joy but hindsight offers a cold eye and the Premiership side really should have closed it out.
ROG repeated his heroics at Castres a week later and he and Paul O'Connell were teaching the pups to become dogs of war. They were infusing them with belief in Europe and the carefree demolition of Northampton in the final pool game led to dizzying dreams of Twickenham in May.
Ulster emphatically ended that and O'Connell's annoyance after that game was paltable. A huge opportunity was missed. He spoke of them not playing cup rugby, of turning territory into points. Munster know better than anyone that harsh lessons are needed in Europe.
Tony McGahan has had his critics, McGahan-ball was seen as a betrayal of the glorious grunt that defined Munster for so long. The Aussie, for this fan at least did a good job of managing the creaking legends and giving game-time to tyros who will have to assume responsabilty now. This season saw the end of the Hayes - Flannery - Horan front row. The back-row hewed from granite; Quinlan - Wallace - Leamy is no more. Donnacha O'Callaghan is a quickly fading force. Doug Howlett was lost to injury. The most able of deputies; Mick O'Driscoll has departed.
It has been an astonishing turnover of players and generally it should be noted that Munster and McGahan have handled it well. It may not seem like it because Leinster are on the verge of immortality, but Munster are not in such a terrible state. Rob Penny will soon take the reigns and waiting for him are young players of genuine quality who have been exposed to the highest of levels. He can also still call on some gristled old veterans and at this stage he can even call on that most reliable of Munster motivators.
A chip on the shoulder.
Image via : ESPN.