Tuesday 22 January 2019

Four-star heroes enjoy triumphant homecoming

Celebrations in Donnybrook as players thank the loyal fans

From left: Johnny Sexton signing autographs for fans in Donnybrook Photos: Frank McGrath
From left: Johnny Sexton signing autographs for fans in Donnybrook Photos: Frank McGrath
Hazel Brown, from Tallaght, and Denise O’Brien, of Ferns, Co Wexford Photos: Frank McGrath
Jack Burke (6) tries to catch Simon Hollywood (4) from Booterstown Photos: Frank McGrath
Isa Nacewa carries the European Rugby Champions Cup Photos: Frank McGrath
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

Leinster supporters turned out in their droves to welcome their all-conquering heroes after Champions Cup success.

The squad and management were welcomed home to sunshine and their adoring fans at Energia Park in Donnybrook yesterday afternoon.

As Dublin basked in the warmth that Bilbao did not enjoy for Saturday’s match, there were roars and cheers as the team was led to the stage by captain Isa Nacewa.

The Champions Cup took pride of place and head coach Leo Cullen admitted that it had been a “pretty emotional” finale, their winning score of 15-12 providing the tension.

“It’s amazing. We had some amazing support. When we drove into the ground in Bilbao and just as the bus arrived into the stadium, to see a sea of blue support there was fantastic,” Cullen said.

“The lads turned it into a nail-biting game, but it was a great occasion for us.”

Cullen also paid tribute to his captain Nacewa, who retires at the end of the season.

“It is hard to put into words the impact he’s had, that everyone sees on the field. But it’s also the impact he’s had off the field as well.

“There is a quote on the wall in the gym, ‘rugby is a selfless game’. And I haven’t come across anyone who fits that description better.

“We have been very, very lucky to have him for as long as we have had.”

Cullen said that the support the team receives allowed Leinster to do a lot of things.

“Keep turning out for us,” he urged, pointing out that they have another big game on Saturday, when the team is due to face Munster.

Meanwhile, Nacewa, who kicked the winning points, said: “It’s a massive squad effort for the whole of Leinster.”

He paid warm tribute to the club and said it had been a massive part of his life and that of his family for around a decade. 

“Simone has been there through it all. She’s been my rock through it  all,” he said.

“It’s a great time to be part of Leinster.”

Team-mate Johnny Sexton, who came out on top against his former club, Racing 92, said: “It was a dream come true to win it with these lads and hopefully there’s a few more in this group. It’s a young group.

“Hopefully we can push on again.” 

Among the supporters in the crowd were Denise O’Brien, from Ferns, Co Wexford, and Hazel Brown from Tallaght, Dublin. They had made their way home after the win in Bilbao.

“We were there for the day trip and we had to leave,” said Denise.

She said the pair had got up at 4.30am and got back home at 1.30am yesterday.

“The atmosphere was incredible. It was absolutely amazing,” she added.

Carl Burke, from Booterstown in Dublin, who brought his son Jack (6) to the homecoming, said that yesterday he booked his tickets for Newcastle next May.  

A group of friends will be going along to it.

“There are six lads, four of us from Dublin and two from London,” he said. Mr Burke said that the team had done Nacewa proud. 

Richard Fegan, from the Navan Road in Dublin 7, brought his son Seán to Energia Park because they are big Leinster fans.

“We are season ticket holders,” said Richard.

He said that while the game may not have pretty, “the result was all that mattered”.

It was another great day in a season to remember for Irish rugby.

Irish Independent

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