Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Grand job: Thousands turn out to welcome home Ireland’s rugby heroes

Ireland's Ronan O'Gara kicks points during the Six Nations rugby union international match against Wales at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday March 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll holds aloft the Six Nations trophy after his team beat Wales 17-15 in a Six Nations rugby union international match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday March 21, 2009. At right is Irish President Mary McAleese and at center Britain's Prince William. Ireland captured its first Grand Slam in the Six Nations for 61 years by beating Wales 17-15 on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi, Pool)

They came in their thousands from all four provinces of Ireland.

Amid a sea of green, over 20,000 supporters celebrated the arrival home of Ireland’s victorious rugby squad with some fans waiting over five hours for a glimpse of their heroes.

Dawson Street came to a standstill yesterday when a civic reception was held in the team’s honour, while a helicopter circled overhead with a banner ‘well done lads’ attached.

The girlfriend of captain Brian O’Driscoll, actor Amy Huberman, said the whole country is sharing the team’s historic win.

“It’s brilliant. The buzz is still going from it all. It’s been an amazing few hours. It’s lovely for everyone to come out to celebrate. The whole country, everyone is sharing it which is brilliant,” she said.

Philip Maguire from Leitrim said the win is something he thought he “would never see”.

He added: “It was fabulous. I wasn’t born the last time it was won. I thought I would never see it. You have to play, at this stage, five games exceptionally well, and you have to have a little bit of luck and to avoid being unlucky.

“The fact it took 61 years shows how exceptional it is. It’s one of those things you’ll remember for the rest of your life. It lifts you. It makes you optimistic.”

Nora Pat Stewart, who travelled to Dublin from Boyle in Co Roscommon yesterday morning with her two sons, said the team “really deserved to win”.

“They have been an excellent team for years. I’m delighted for them. They deserve the silverware,” she said.

Ken Murphy, from Kildare, was “delighted, ecstatic and relieved” with the win.

“It was a brilliant match, it was unreal. I had to hide behind a pillow for a lot of it. With Bernard Dunne also winning last night, it couldn’t get much better,” Lyndsay Balfe from Rush in Co Dublin said.

Twins and fans of Tommy Bowe and Peter Stringer, Ellen and Aisling Keyes (9) from Templeogue, were “very excited and delighted” to see their heroes on the big stage.

Sean Ronayne (12), also from Templeogue, said: “I couldn’t watch the end of it. It was very tense. I had to leave the room and come back in.”

Dubliner Kevin McConnell, who travelled to Cardiff for the match, said Welsh supporters he met “didn’t agree” with coach Warren Gatland’s controversial comments about the Irish team during the week.

He said: “They were very gracious and they really really were very friendly after the game and celebrated our success with us. It was a total contrast to what Gatland was talking about. They were embarrassed about it to a certain extent.”

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also sent their congratulations.

Mr McGuinness said: “Like everyone in Ireland, I have followed the progress of Declan Kidney and his team, and was delighted to see them fulfil their potential at last. Bridging the 61 year gap since our last grand slam will seal for them a place in our sporting history.”

Mr Robinson said: “This victory is an outstanding achievement. I wish to congratulate the entire team and in particular Ulster players Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Paddy Wallace, Tom Court and former Ulster player Tommy Bowe.”

A specially constructed stage was erected outside the Mansion House for the triumphant Irish team.

Team captain Brian O’Driscoll said its “taken a while” for the reality to sink in.

“It’s been fantastic since last night. It’s taken a while to settle in. I suppose the dramatic circumstances the game finished — it took us that little bit longer to deal with it. I was a fantastic feeling waking up this morning, you’re not as sore you would be if you’d lost,” he said.

Donncha O’Callaghan said the last five minutes of the games is “something we’ll always remember”, while the “incredible atmosphere in the stadium is something we won’t forget”.

Paddy Wallace said it is fantastic “to be part of history now”.

Following a rousing rendition of ‘Black Velvet Band’, Tommy Bowe described his try as “very special”.

“It was nice. The ball bounced nicely. It’s nice when something we practiced during the week comes off, and for me personally, against a lot of my teammates over in Wales, it was very special for me.

“Luckily enough, we were able to hold on until the end and we were able to win.”

Ireland coach Declan Kidney said it was “everybody’s day”.

“The honesty and the support of the players shone through yesterday and their got their just rewards,” he said.

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