Saturday 21 July 2018

Leinster are on track to becoming the greatest club side in European history

Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster

Victor Costello

And just like that a Champions Cup final comes and goes with a fourth star added to the jersey.

What was once so coveted now seems so standard and a fifth next year or in the coming years is almost inevitable.

Never before in the history of European rugby has it felt like the final is the start of something more than the end.

The game itself did not live up to the standards set by either team but it was not a day for skill, talent or physical exposure but rather it was a day to test the mental resolve and Leinster won this battle not just over the gruelling 80 minutes, but throughout the whole season.

When you see the four stars in tandem on the jersey, it puts Leinster up there with the best in Europe. What you don't see is the pain of defeat between those stars.

Leo Cullen and his management team were no strangers to defeat over the past few seasons and I guess you have to learn to lose before learning to win.

These days, winning comes second nature to this side and long may this last, but for Leo Cullen Girvan Dempsey, John Fogarty and Stuart Lancaster, this was a sweet one.

Leo took the job with all the attributes as a player and captain. Sometimes this doesn't transfer but clearly in his case it does.

As a motivational leader, it was always going to be hard to transmit this into your players from the sideline but where other players-turned-coaches failed, Leo found a way.

Rarely will there be another coach in club history that will have talked the talk and walked the walk as player and coach in this competition.

The very nature of Girvan Dempsey's move to Bath shows the impact this Leinster group have had in Europe and for Stuart Lancaster it is a real indication of the skills he has when he has the right tools to work with.

Dempsey's move to the UK is another heartfelt moment in Leinster's history. When they talk about unsung heroes, Dempsey that comes to mind.

Girvan as a player was a rock of stability in the back-three for Terenure, Leinster and Ireland, and this stability continued into his coaching career from the Academy all the way to the senior team.

His loyalty to the province as a player was mirrored as a coach and now due to his and Leinster's success one of the best and more traditional of the English clubs has come knocking. He will bring a much-needed calm to the Bath environment and beyond.

After last week's exploits, what would normally be a season highlight has become a run-of-the-mill semi-final in the Guinness PRO14.

Not even the Munster squad have voiced ambition or ability of knocking Leinster off their perch.

It would be easy for the old school to quietly snigger at the off-pitch serene build-up to this game. The very fact that 1,000 returned tickets from the Munster branch sees the new volatility of the famous travelling support and 16th man.

Of course the new school and breed of players are different so therefore a more professional attitude will prevail. Leinster's vast squad, although depleted to the max this season, will be enough to smooth over any individual unavailability or fatigue and Leinster's big-game performances should see them through to obtaining the double.

Over the past few decades Leinster's grasp on professionalism had its ups and downs. Inconsistent wins at home led to wins on the road, consistency on both led to the first Heineken Cup win in 2009; between then and now the interest and competitive nature of the Academy system has produced players that will eventually be the best Ireland has ever had.

Leinster as a business have navigated well the changes in the European structure and also avoided big-money transfers for quick wins.

Instead they trusted in the future, which is now. Soon the Champions Cup may not be enough, but in the meantime Leinster will become the greatest ever rugby club in Europe.

Irish Independent

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