Around this time, it was not unusual to see the red and white stripes of Sunderland venturing across the Irish Sea for pre-season friendlies. Sunderland was still chaired by Irish and Sunderland legend Niall Quinn, which ensured that the connection between the club and the country stayed strong.
For this occasion, the club went over to participate in a friendly against a Munster XI (players from Munster who play in the League of Ireland). Steve Bruce brought his side to Shannonside after receiving an invitation to take part in a fundraiser for the Shane Geoghegan Trust—a group working in response to the murder of a young rugby player from the area in 2008.
I remember this game well, as I attended it myself. Being only 16 years old at the time, I joined the A Love Supreme bus that brought fans over from Dublin Airport for the three-hour journey to Limerick City.
The conversation surrounding this game was centered more on which transfers the club would make, rather than the anticipation surrounding this fixture. Sunderland was in the market for many new players, particularly a striker. However, academy product Martyn Waghorn boosted his chances with an impressive performance in this particular game.
Trailing to a goal by John Tierney at halftime, the former Manchester United man made several changes during the break and was rewarded with two goals from the young striker Waghorn, securing the win.
In truth, the game was a typical pre-season friendly. The tempo was low, the atmosphere was quiet, and spectators were there to get their fix of football, while also supporting the worthy cause of the night at Munster Rugby’s home.
The Munster side displayed better quality and coherence in the first half, while the Premier League side appeared sluggish and lethargic.
The first goal of the game arrived after 16 minutes when a delightful ball from Timmy Kiely on the right flank was cushioned by Garbhan Coughlan for the on-rushing Tierney to calmly stroke home. It was no more than they deserved for their early dominance.
It took Sunderland a full 25 minutes to trouble the Munster XI goal, and their first real attempt came after a typically dangerous Andy Reid corner caused trouble in a crowded box. It was an opportunistic overhead kick from center half Nyron Nosworthy, which looped over.
Our new goalkeeper signing, Simon Mignolet, was making a name for himself with some incredible saves that night. O’Flynn once again excited the large Thomond Park crowd with a stinging drive that forced an excellent save from the young Belgian.
Sunderland increased the pressure in the second half and were duly rewarded with two well-worked goals. Bruce’s changes appeared to make a difference, with young Irish full-back Michael Liddle making an impression.
Moments after the restart, we found the ball in the net. Steed Malbranque orchestrated a crisp move that saw Frazier Campbell bundle it home, but he was in an offside position.
However, that was the warning sign. Sunderland finally drew level with 15 minutes to go when Martyn Waghorn dispatched a crisp shot past the near post. The 20-year-old striker then put the visitors in the lead moments later when he curled a free kick into the same spot from 25 yards.
From that point, the game lost its intensity as both teams made several changes. It was a good run-out for the Black Cats, who would appear as a different outfit by the end of the transfer window, while the city of Limerick raised significant funds for a worthy cause.
MUNSTER XI: K McCarthy (S Cusack h/t); P White (J O’Brien 69), S Kelly (J Boyle 62), P Purcell, J Sullivan (E O’Hanlon 54), T Kiely, G Coughlan (S Treacy h/t), J Judge (J Sugrue 65), D O’Leary, S O’Flynn (S Clarke 50), J Tierney (D Kavanagh h/t).
SUNDERLAND: S Mignolet (T Carson ht), T Tanio (M Liddle ht/),G McCartney A Ferdinand (M Turner h/t), R Nosworthy (Kilkallon); P Bardsley, J Colbert (J Henderson h/t), A Reid (S Malbranque ht), K Jones (F Campbell), R Noble (K Richardson), D Murphy (M Waghorn h/t).
Referee: D Sutton (Clare).