Rugby World Cup; Irish eyes are smiling as heroes return to Dublin airport
Pain of loss forgotten as team gets rapturous welcome home
THEIR World Cup dream may have been crushed by a storming Welsh side -- but the Irish rugby team are still heroes to their devoted fans.
The exhausted players were clearly galvanised by an enthusiastic reception from hundreds of supporters at Dublin Airport yesterday afternoon.
The unwavering support offered by the cheering crowds helped "soften the blow" of the end of his World Cup dream, a jetlagged Brian O'Driscoll admitted.
The captain, flanked by teammates Rob Kearney and Gordon D'Arcy, found himself in the middle of yet another scrum yesterday as more than 300 fans lunged toward him in the arrivals lounge.
They sang, cheered and finally let out an ear-splitting scream as their heroes came through the gate.
Among the delighted fans were O'Driscoll's family, friends, nephews and nieces who lined out to welcome home the team and show them that Irish eyes were still smiling.
The majority of the squad arrived into Dublin following a 40-hour journey via Wellington, Auckland, Dubai and London, while other members were met by family members in Shannon, Cork and Belfast.
After his gruelling journey, coach Declan Kidney issued a big thank you to the Irish people, adding how it "was on the crest of the wave of that support that the team did so well in New Zealand".
O'Driscoll, still obviously hurting from the devastating Welsh defeat said: "Essentially it's a game of rugby I have lost so in the sphere of life in general it's a small thing but in the rugby sphere it will have a big impact."
The despondent Irish captain, whose actress wife Amy Huberman arrived home on a separate flight, said the team was only now getting to grips with the level of support it received back home.
"We were in a bubble in New Zealand. You just don't realise the enormity of it back home and how much everyone got behind the team. Life goes on for us now, we are out of the World Cup and we are very disappointed," he said.
However, he refused to be drawn on the question of whether he planned to now retire from the game
"At the moment there is not much time for thinking about Irish jerseys. We will switch off after the World Cup, go off and get some sun for a while, and then get into the provincial season and when the Six Nations comes around we will snap into international mode and just get on with the rest of our lives," he said
Also among the excited waiting family members was Kimberley Ross, wife of Mike Ross, with their eight-month-old son Kevin.
"It has been very tough being away from him but you deal with what you are dealt. We are so proud of him. Little Kevin had no idea of the enormity of it all as he slept through all of the games," she said.
Gladys Butler (81) and Roberta Wright, from Sandymount, Co Dublin, who are lifelong rugby fans, also turned up to show their support
"We are devastated for the team but so proud of them. We got up to watch every match and my five grandsons went out to New Zealand to support them," said Mrs Butler.
In Cork, a weary yet resilient Ronan O'Gara arrived back home to the waiting arms of his wife and children.
Speculation fuelled by an emotional interview given to RTE by O'Gara during the World Cup was pointing at an imminent retirement from international rugby.
However, the Munster man seemed to have cooled towards the idea on his arrival at Cork Airport yesterday evening where he was met by his wife Jessica, twins Rua and Molly and son JJ.
O'Gara and Donncha O'Callaghan were both welcomed back by their families at Cork Airport, with O'Gara arriving home in time to share his twin daughter and son's third birthday with them.
"They're looking forward to their presents," O'Gara said to his two beaming children.
"Irish rugby's been so good to me, you don't walk away from that. The other side of it is that I'm 34 and new talent is coming through so we'll see what happens. But you don't ever turn your back on a great country," he added.