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Proud Leinster fans party on in Toulouse despite pain of defeat

IT WAS a great journey while it lasted.

And, after all, we are still European Champions for another three weeks.

Leinster fans have been partying on in Toulouse over the long weekend despite the rugby team's knockout from the Heineken Cup.

Hundreds of supporters swapped jerseys and flags with their victorious rivals and have been hitting the town in red and black in a touching display of respect for the Toulouse team.

The injury-stricken Heineken Cup holders were dumped out of the competition with a 26-16 defeat by the home favourites in an 80-minute emotional rollercoaster, but resilient Leinster fans refused to let the defeat get them down and insisted on toasting the team's efforts in De Danu, The Melting Pot and pubs across the city.

Spokeswoman for the Official Leinster Supporters' Club, Alison Moore from Stepaside, told the Herald: "The team didn't let us down at all; they put in a great effort but Toulouse were just too good on the day.

"We are proud of Leinster and aren't going to let this get us down. They are a fantastic team and we know that they'll be back at the top again in the near future.

"Now it's on to the Magners League -- that will be a great consolation price," she added.

Die-hard fan Trevor Garret from Kilkenny said he was very proud of the team and the positive attitude among his fellow fans over the weekend.

"They played really well but Toulouse were just superb. The fans were just fantastic on both sides; there is a lovely mutual respect there and everyone stayed on at the end to applaud Leinster.

"Toulouse showed us a great deal of respect and we in turn did the same. The Heineken Cup is a superb competition and it's way more engaging than the Six Nations because it's much more personal and intimate -- that's what makes it wonderful and it's nice that Leinster retains its respect from other teams that have won it -- it's a great occasion."

Fans staying on a few days have mobbed Trevor Brennan's pub, De Danu, every night since the big game.

But among the surprisingly upbeat fans, several others are still drowning their sorrows.

John Cooke from Killester said: "I'm devastated but the best team won. The game itself, we played our own tactics; we didn't get any attacking formation. We stood back, we kicked the ball to them -- you don't kick the ball to the best team in the world."

Jamie Barnes from Blackrock agreed: "I'm gutted -- two quick tries killed us. If they didn't get them, I think it would have been very different."

But his pal, Mark Kane, believes there is no point in getting down about the defeat: "I don't think anyone will beat Toulouse, they will be the champions this year.

"We had every reason to hit Trevor Brennan's pub afterwards. The team did us proud and we wanted to live it up."

Viv Lavan from Stillorgan explained he has been in a partying mood since the game. "The atmosphere was unbelievable. I had never been here before so that was great to see. There was no way we weren't going to celebrate how far the team came.

"I was so proud of the boys. It was beautiful to be in the stadium with the Toulouse fans, it was a pleasure to be here."