Thousands of Ulster fans have arrived home after their team’s Heineken Cup hopes were crushed by Leinster.
The dream of a second European triumph was shattered as the holders retained their trophy in front of more than 80,000 fans at Twickenham on Saturday.
It was a hugely disappointing result for supporters, some of whom had made long journeys to watch the showpiece final.
Ulster were aiming to lift the Heineken Cup for the first time since 1999, but were blown away by a dominant Leinster side.
Tries from Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien, Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin — plus a penalty try early in the second half —helped the defending champions to a comprehensive victory.
The final score, 42-14, was the highest winning margin in a Heineken Cup final.
A record crowd of 81,744 watched the game, including an estimated 20,000 Ulster fans.
Among those who had made the trip was Patricia Magee from Carryduff. Because flights to London were quickly booked up, she flew to Birmingham before completing the journey by train.
“It was fantastic to see so many supporters travel over to London to show their support, even if the odds weren’t great,” she said.
“It was quite expensive to support our team, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We were outclassed but I’m still so proud of them for getting to the final.”
Jack and Paula Enwright also travelled from Belfast for the big game at Twickenham.
“Of course it’s disappointing, but to get to this stage was still a great achievement,” said Jack.
“You can’t argue with the result either. Leinster were the better team,” he added.
Another fan, Carla Montgomery, who lives in London but is originally from Ballymena, was also among the Ulster contingent at Twickenham. “There are a lot of Irish people working over here and the atmosphere was great building up to the game,” she said.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but I always knew we were up against it.”
Ben Kelly, who was with his girlfriend Jane Kinsella, was among the victorious Leinster fans who were celebrating a third Heineken Cup in four years.
“It’s fantastic — you never get tired of this,” he said. “It was a brilliant day, a brilliant atmosphere and a brilliant performance.
Outgoing Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin, whose last game in charge ended in disappointment, admitted that Leinster deserved the trophy — but insisted that the final score was harsh.
“We fought back hard and scored a nice try but in the last 10 minutes Leinster showed what a quality side they are and how much they deserved the trophy.
Despite the loss, the Ulster team have been urged to take pride in their Heineken Cup journey.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: “I, like many, was shouting for Ulster. Although it wasn’t to be their day, they have certainly done themselves proud,” she said. “The first all-Ireland Heineken Cup final was a great day for Irish rugby.”