Friday 15 November 2019

Real heroes' welcome for triumphant players on return home

Johnny Sexton with Conor McGrath from Swords, Dublin, at the airport yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Johnny Sexton with Conor McGrath from Swords, Dublin, at the airport yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Ireland supporters celebrate after winning the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The trophy they were triumphantly holding aloft may only have been a replica - the real one remains in Twickenham and will not arrive until later in the week - but its sparkle was most certainly genuine.

As the victorious Ireland team arrived back at the VIP terminal in Dublin airport, hundreds of loyal fans were waiting - many of whom seemed to be missing large chunks of their fingernails thanks to the supremely anxious Six Nations finish.

Their nerves in tatters, they were all too happy to just wait with familiar patience for the first sight of their heroes on home soil after a truly valiant campaign.

Paul O'Connell was first to exit the doors, with a grin on his face and that trophy in hand as a deafening cheer went up, Tricolours fluttering wildly.

More players seemed to be sporting a black eye than were not and they all looked exhausted - but completely ecstatic.

It may have been painful and the manner of their final victory peculiar and nerve-wracking - but it had been more than worth it.

And there was one more party before it was all over - with a reception later at the Intercontinental hotel in Ballsbridge.

Johnny Sexton said they were very proud of what they had done - but wistfully mentioned the one prize that had got away.

"I just wish there was a Grand Slam in there as well," he said.

"It's very strange to be in that situation, I was never in that situation before," he said of the wait for the England v France game.

"You play your game and you do everything you can and then have to sit through a whole hour-and-a-half and watch another game that's just as important as the one you've just played - a crazy couple of hours.

"I couldn't believe that game was going the way it was, the amount of scores that were in it."

The outhalf said the 10,000 fans who had cheered on the Irish side in Edinburgh had been the highlight of his career so far.

Prop Marty Moore revealed they had watched the England game over dinner with the Scottish team.

"There wasn't much banter in the room," he admitted. "The fans have been amazing and it's great to see the turnout today to welcome us home," he said.

The players spent over 45 minutes mingling with fans and were happy to sign autographs, hold babies, meet young star-struck rugby legends in the making and pose for any number of selfies.

Young fan David Boland (13) from Tullamore, Co Offaly, had made the trip up to Dublin Airport especially to see the team.

He had followed the Six Nations journey all the way, he said, adding: "It wasn't good for the heart."

Ruth Fitzgerald from Ratoath, Co Meath, joined friends Gavin Timlin and Ciaran Pygett from Dublin for the homecoming - and was very keen to see Tommy Bowe in the flesh.

"It was amazing - it was absolutely to the wire, right across all the matches," said Gavin.

Irish Independent

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