At 12.30pm last Friday afternoon, as the squad assembled at the Stoop for the short coach journey to Heathrow Terminal One, I am sure that no-one within our party had any idea what we were to encounter on our trip to Limerick to play Munster in the Heineken Cup.
Before getting on the coach we were given the news that Roy Winters had failed a fitness test, but all was well as Alex Alesbrook was already travelling to Limerick and he would now be on the bench. Not sure Alex's travelling companion would be best pleased, but as they say "that's life!"
The weekend started well - a short transfer to the airport, followed by a quick check-in at the Aer Lingus desk and then everyone off to various restaurants and shops having purchased this new currency 'The Euro'.
Aer Lingus flight 381 departed on time with all the squad on board (plus many supporters) all looking forward to playing in the rugby capital of Ireland - Limerick.
Upon arrival at Shannon airport, I suppose I should have sensed that the weekend might throw-up a few surprises. While everyone else got on the coach to transfer us to Jury's Inn Hotel, Rob Jewell was running around the airport looking more and more distressed. His bag had not arrived in Ireland - at least not on flight E1 381. All the Kooga bags were unloaded off the coach and back on again, whereupon Rob and I visited the Aer Lingus lost luggage desk to complete the necessary formalities.
Arrival at the hotel went smoothly. Everyone checked into their rooms and the team meeting started at 6.30pm as scheduled. Paul Burke, Will Greenwood and Tony Diprose spoke well and you sensed that the entire party was focused on the job ahead. The party went in for dinner before the players went off to relax either in their rooms, at the cinema or playing board games. Tony Copsey and his party went off to dinner with one Keith Wood before arriving at Peter Clohesy's Bar and his Night Club the 'Sin Bin', conveniently located next door and only 200 yards from our hotel.
Rob Jewell bag arrived at the hotel at 10.30pm having been re-directed from Dublin!
At 6.35am on the Saturday morning our whole approach to the weekend was to change. A phone call from Limerick CID: "Mr Scott could you come down to reception, we need to have a word with you as there has been a bit of an incident". Regrettably we had found ourselves in the middle of a murder investigation. A 24 year-old receptionist working in the hotel had been murdered.
By 8.30am on Saturday morning everyone in the hotel including all the Quins players and staff had been questioned and had given statements to the police. In such a situation it soon becomes clear that our all-important Heineken Cup game against Munster was somewhat insignificant when you think of the suffering the family of the murdered girl must have been going through.
With the help of Jury's Inn Hotel, a huge breakfast was organised at their sister hotel, Jury's, a short walk away, where our opponents Munster were staying.
After breakfast it was back to Jury's Inn to ascertain what would be happening for the rest of the day. By approximately 11 am we had arranged for our pre-match lunch and team meetings to be held at the sister hotel and we would then proceed from there to Thomond Park.
Before that, there was more questioning to be undertaken and further statements to be given. Items of equipment had to be identified. At 11.30 am, we left Jury's Inn for our pre-match preparations, unsure where we would be staying that evening.
After the game I received a further phone call from an Officer with the Limerick CID. We needed to return to Jury's Inn and collect our bags as the hotel was to be closed. The officer wanted a further word with everyone in our party just to see if anyone heard anything between the hours of 4 am and 6 am that Saturday morning. It was not even clear if Mr. Copsey's party had returned to the hotel by then.
Back at the hotel, we were ushered into a meeting room and from their escorted to our rooms to collect our bags. It was then back on the Coach to Ryan's Hotel where we checked in again for our final night's stay in Limerick.
On the trip home, our flight was delayed two hours due to fog at Heathrow and upon arrival at the airport our Fitness coaches Paul Pook and Dave Bell got lost, and somehow ended up in terminal two!
On behalf of everyone involved with NEC Harlequins, I would like to offer our heart felt condolences to the family of the young girl so tragically killed
Look forward to seeing you all at the Stoop this Saturday for our game against Bridgend - kick-off 3pm.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.