Ronan O'Gara 'humbled' as 900 line out for dinner
Ronan O'Gara took centre stage on English soil for one final time last night – but this time off the pitch.
Hundreds of admirers, fans, former players, players and friends turned out at the Hilton hotel on Park Lane in London for the second testimonial dinner of the former fly-half, who was capped 128 times for Ireland over 13 years.
The father-of-four declared the experience "very flattering" and "very humbling" as admirers from the worlds of sports, finance, entertainment and politics gathered at the black tie event.
"I am just very humbled by the whole thing," he said.
"It is a massive occasion and an awful lot of organising went into it, it's great that my team-mates are here, obviously a lot are retired.
"It is great that they can have a night out because I am (normally working) in Paris. Tonight is a one-off."
Among those at the event were decorated Irish internationals Donncha O'Callaghan, Peter Stringer, Donal Lenihan and Peter Clohessy.
The 36-year-old former player, who was both Munster's most capped player and top points scorer of all time, has been coaching with Racing Metro in France since his retirement last year following one of the most successful rugby careers in history.
During his time on the pitch, he captained Munster, Ireland and the Lions and became the third most capped player and fourth highest points scorer in international rugby.
Stringer, who had his first cap with Ireland on the same day against Scotland in February 2000, said O'Gara had been equally as influential in Irish rugby as Brian O'Driscoll but in a different regard, paying tribute to his kicking professionalism.
Michael Flatley, there with his wife Niamh, described O'Gara as an "Irish hero".
"I shudder to think of the amount of times I have watched him line up those kicks thinking 'he will never get this one' and he never disappointed," he said.
Almost 900 tickets were sold for the event, with prices ranging from £3,000 to £5,000 for a table of 10.
Developer Michael O'Flynn, who organised both testimonial dinners, said there was a waiting list after tickets sold out: "The support he has is quite incredible.
"He is a great ambassador. We did two (testimonials) because there is a huge demand."
O'Gara and his wife Jessica are expecting their fifth child in April to add to their family which includes five-year-old twins Rua and Molly, three-year-old JJ and baby Zac.
The event could not have come at a more appropriate time as anticipation builds towards Ireland's vital clash against England in the Six Nations tomorrow. O'Gara said he thought Ireland had a "great chance".
The evening's events were overseen by 'X-Factor' host Dermot O'Leary. Also present were Mick McCarthy, Kevin Moran, Ruby Walsh, Will Carling and Paul Galvin.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan and former minister Conor Lenihan were there, as well as developer Owen O'Callaghan and former attorney general Peter Sutherland.