Tuesday 20 March 2018

Leinster fans in rapture at triumphant homecoming

Everyone talking about inspired Sexton

at the RDS
Jonny Sexton signs autographs at the RDS
Leinster players lift broadcaster Pat Kenny and spray him with champagne at Cardiff Airport on Saturday night
Leinster's Leo Cullen carries the Heineken Cup trophy – with his nephew, eight-week-old Fionn Quilter, sitting inside it – on arriving home at Dublin Airport yesterday

Fiach Kelly

YOU may have heard the world was supposed to end at six o'clock on Saturday.

The so-called "rapture", as peddled by doomsday preacher Harold Camping from California, predicted a wave of earthquakes would roll across the earth and bring the apocalypse.

Well, that didn't quite happen, and it's not just because Mr Camping is a misguided nut.

No, it didn't happen because Leinster out-half Jonny Sexton went upstairs and had a few inspirational words with God at half-time in the Heineken Cup final.

The rapture was thus redirected, and instead of you, me and the human race going the way of the dinosaurs, Northampton Saints took a battering -- mostly from Sexton himself -- from around 6pm on Saturday.

Sexton's masterful performance, grabbing Leinster by the scruff and driving them toward a second Heineken Cup in three years, has already gone down in history as the spur for one of sport's great comebacks.

And he's being credited with inspirational words to his teammates at half-time, when Leinster trailed Northampton by 16 points, which will also go down in history.

His deeds, on and off the field, ensured the golden age of Irish rugby continues. Cardiff remains a happy hunting ground -- and Sexton is the new favourite with fans.

His was the only name on the lips of the 2,000 or so supporters who gathered in the RDS yesterday to welcome the European champions home.

They braved heavy showers, but the sun came out just before captain Leo Cullen and coach Joe Schmidt carried the trophy out after 5pm. We assume Jonny went upstairs, had another word with the big man and sorted the weather out, too.

With legions of Leinster supporters -- hoarse, bleary-eyed, but still overjoyed -- making their way home from Cardiff on ferries and planes, the RDS outing was more for younger fans, such as 18-month-old Sadhbh McCarthy from Donaghmede, there with her father Dave and mother Aoife.

Decked out in a Leinster jersey signed by Shane Horgan and others, it was the second time Sadhbh saw the Heineken Cup, having sat in it -- aged just 13 days -- during its last stay in the province.

"Spectacular," said Dave of the match, describing it as the "best comeback ever", and, unsurprisingly, hailing Sexton.

And the Leinster team were also full of praise for Sexton, with Leo Cullen saying his "wise words" pulled them out of a "dark place".

He joked that Sexton just asked his teammates to give him the ball and he'd do the rest -- almost correct, since the 25-year-old scored 28 of Leinster's tally of 33 points.

"Sexton took charge at half time, I suppose," said flanker Sean O'Brien.

"What about Jonny Sexton?" Brian O'Driscoll asked the crowd. "This is now the Jonny Sexton club!"

Joe Schmidt joked that his job as coach was "already gone".

"With Jonny taking over, it's a step forward," he added.

But, despite numerous attempts to find out what the out-half said at half-time, a bashful Sexton wasn't giving much away.

"We've got a lot of good leaders on the team, so I was only speaking for a couple of minutes," he said. "It's grown legs at this stage. Stuff stays in the changing room. It was just that we had to believe we could do it. Teams came from behind in finals and we just had to believe it and luckily we did. The second-half was one to remember."

Leinster now face arch rivals Munster -- with the pair matched on two Heineken Cups each -- in the Magners League final on Saturday.

O'Driscoll said Leinster would enjoy the celebrations and get back to work tomorrow to prepare for the match.

If Sexton stays on this form -- both on and off the field -- they should have nothing to worry about.

Maybe the Government should consider bringing Sexton along when it wants to renegotiate the bailout.

Get in there Jonny, have a word. Sort it out.

Irish Independent

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