| 15.2°C Dublin

Rugby stars have a ball as Leinster's finest are honoured at glitzy awards

THE red carpet was rolled out for top rugby stars from across Leinster as they celebrated their achievements at the glitzy annual Leinster Awards Ball.

Leo Cullen, Jamie Heaslip, Luke Fitzgerald and Isa Nacewa were just some of the players to attend the black-tie gala in the Burlington Hotel on Friday.

Heaslip walked away with the top award of the night after he was named the Bank of Ireland Leinster Player of the Year.

The down-to-earth Naas player told the 350 guests: "I don't think I've ever received an award of this stature before on an individual basis and I wouldn't like to take too much credit because I couldn't have achieved this without my team-mates and coaches."

Heaslip follows in the footsteps of recent winners Gordon D'Arcy, Felipe Contepomi, Bernard Jackman and Rocky Elsom.

D'Arcy, who was accompanied by his gorgeous new girlfriend Aoife Cogan, picked up the Try of the Year award for his effort in the 30-0 Magners League victory over Munster in the RDS, as voted for by readers of the Herald.

Jonny Stapleton (Clondalkin) was awarded the Herald Club PRO of the Year.

Among the schools picking up awards for their success was Seapoint, which was named the Canterbury Junior Club of the Year and the winner of the Powerade School of the Year was St Gerard's School in Bray.

Other winners included Isa Nacewa for best tackle and former Leinster and Ireland great Paddy Madigan, who was inducted into the Guinness Hall of Fame to honour a lifetime's involvement in the game.

But it was an emotional occasion as a number of the departing players and coaches were honoured, including Shane Jennings who recently passed the 100-cap milestone for his province. Head Coach Michael Cheika received a specially commissioned painting on behalf of Leinster Rugby and Bank of Ireland for his outstanding contribution to the province over the last five years.

Australian Cheika, whose wife is expecting twins, lightened the mood of his impending departure to Paris later this year by recalling some of his biggest highlights from his time here, including the birth of one of his children.

The assembled guests included players, coaches, clubs, schools, sponsors and Official Leinster Supporters Club (OLSC) members, representing all parts of the provincial game.

Retiring players Bernard Jackman and Malcolm O'Kelly were also honoured at the event

Picture special, See P 21