Monday 19 March 2018

A sea of blue flags as Leinster fans celebrate making of history

Aoife Hogan and Cara Marie Sheerin were happy to soak up the atmosphere at Twickenham. Photo: David Conachy
Aoife Hogan and Cara Marie Sheerin were happy to soak up the atmosphere at Twickenham. Photo: David Conachy

Shane Hickey in London

IT was history in the making. And there was never any doubt about who most of the crowd were shouting for.

As Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings lifted the Heineken Cup, the stands of Twickenham blended into a flickering blue wave as thousands of flags came out in support of the unprecedented victory.

"We are attempting to create some sort of a dynasty, something to be remembered by," said Brian O'Driscoll, who had limped off the pitch but returned to finish the match.

With yesterday evening's 42-14 win against Ulster, Leinster cemented themselves in the history books as the first team to win three titles in four seasons after an unbeaten run in this year's competition.

And the team made it clear they are already thinking of next year's final in Dublin.

"We just love it," said man of the match, Sean O'Brien.

Even before they took to the pitch, it seemed Leinster had the upper hand.

Thousands of fans flooded through Twickenham train station throughout yesterday afternoon and blue was the dominant colour, with the favourite's supporters arriving early and in strength.

The small village in south-west London was swamped with fans from both Ulster and Leinster well in advance of the 5pm kick-off.

And it was quickly swamped again after the match with victorious Leinster supporters celebrating their win while Ulster tried to come to terms with coming so close.

O'Brien had much to celebrate from his performance, and there was no lack of support from his home town in the crowd.

His sister, Alex O'Brien, had travelled, along with 110 others, from Tullow for the game.

"I think there is more support than usual, it is great to have two Irish teams there," she said.

Jubilation took hold in the final minutes with players embracing well before the whistle had been blown, while the Ulster fans did their best to cheer on their side despite the impending loss.

When that final whistle did go, Ulster were left to console themselves in a circle while their opposite numbers ran to grab bottles of beer for the traditional victory picture.

Outside, there was jubilation among the fans as they streamed into Twickenham, filling up the handful of pubs in the area. Niall Mulligan from Swords, in Dublin, was quick to capture the attention of photographers with his blue-and-white all-over head painting.

The life-long Leinster fan arrived in London from Belfast yesterday morning.

Tight security surrounded the prize-giving, with one pitch invader tackled by four security guards and a ring of stewards had formed to prevent any mass movement on to the grass.

Among those who watched the Leinster victory were Holly Carpenter, the girlfriend of Cian Healy; Fergus McFadden's partner Hazel O'Sullivan; and Aoife Cogan, who is engaged to Gordon D'Arcy.

While each side got the same allocation of tickets -- 7,500 -- it appeared the blues had the upper hand in the stands, with three-quarters apparently dominated by Leinster support.

Much was being made of the fact that an Irish team would walk away successful no matter what from yesterday's match but this was of little consolation to Ulster after their comprehensive loss.

Outside the ground, tout tickets were going for £100 (€123). While both sides quickly sold out of their official allocations, the rest of the tickets had been on sale since last year, with batches being released for the 82,000-seater stadium.

Neither side could put an official figure on fan numbers but it was estimated that some 40,000 had travelled over, joining the "exiles" who live in the English capital.

Sunday Independent

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