Historic heroes' welcome home for the Boys in Green
Streets come alive - as victory makes fans and non-fans 'walk a little taller'
Published 30/05/2016 | 02:30
A historic victory deserves a historic homecoming. And so the Connacht Rugby team were given a heroes' welcome as they arrived back in Galway.
The squad assembled at the Town Hall Theatre and paraded through the streets of Galway to their home ground at the Sportsground.
The streets were heaving as fans embraced, cheered and cried with delight as an open-top bus rolled through the city.
"It's not just rugby people who are celebrating today. People from all sports and people with little interest in sport are walking a bit taller today," the Mayor of Galway proudly stated.
Cllr Frank Fahy, who accompanied the team home from Edinburgh on Saturday night, said the players and management had brought honour and glory to all of the province.
"They have done it against all the odds and the manner in which they captured the Pro 12 title was breath-taking. Everyone is so proud of them," he said.
As if the landmark victory wasn't enough reason to smile, the sun shone high in the sky adding to the mood of jubilation.
Thousands of Connacht fans were in Murrayfield on Saturday when Pat Lam's men blew favourites Leinster away with a devastating 20-10 victory.
It is Connacht's first trophy in their 131-year history but captain John Muldoon said they never gave up hope.
"You always believe, but when you're going through tough days it's always harder to believe," he said.
The 33-year old grew up in Portumna and he might have been part of the four All-Ireland club hurling titles won by the GAA club had he not concentrated on rugby.
He said he always dreamed of lifting a cup as captain of a winning team - but presumed it would be for hurling.
"I might have been lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup, but nothing changes and I'm just delighted.
"You always believe, but when you're going through tough days it's always harder to believe.
"Deep down you always believe that it's coming, and you always believe that you can be part of it and I'm just chuffed that I'm here," the triumphant captain told the crowd.
Coach Pat Lam was also given a massive ovation, having turned the side around in the three years since he first arrived in Galway.
The New Zealander, who captained Samoa, said it was an honour and privilege to work with such a dedicated group.
"We represent Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo - the five counties - and all the Connacht people living abroad and we are honoured to do that.
"We are so grateful to all the support and goodwill we have received and we now want to build on this," he said.
The team charter was greeted by almost 2,000 ecstatic supporters when it touched down just after midnight on Saturday night at Ireland West Airport in Knock.
Flags and banners were waved in the air as the Boys in Green hoisted the gleaming silver trophy into the air.
The chairman of Mayo County Council, councillor Michael Holmes, was on hand to welcome the team home and spoke of their prowess on the pitch.
Bonfires blazed along the N17 on the hour-long bus journey back to Galway.
A newly married couple interrupted their wedding at the Claregalway Hotel, rushing out to greet the team and congratulate them before the squad continued on their way to the city centre, led by a garda escort.
The atmosphere in Galway was electric, with fans recounting the match in detail.
And the celebrations show no signs of abating.
Yesterday's party continued long into the night after the bus tour of the city - and the party is set to continue for the week as Connacht finally celebrates winning the coveted rugby trophy.