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5,000 join in Belfast Kingspan roar to welcome Ireland's rugby elite

Ireland training session at Kingspan Stadium, Belfast March 5 2015 Close

Fans during an open training session at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast

Fans during an open training session at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast

Tommy Bowe at Ravenhill

Tommy Bowe at Ravenhill

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Janet Coleman and Rory Best take a selfie

Janet Coleman and Rory Best take a selfie

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Eleanor Stevenson with Paul O'Connell

Eleanor Stevenson with Paul O'Connell

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Wallace fans

Wallace fans

Methody fans

Methody fans

PACEMAKER BELFAST 5/3/2015 
Ireland's Johnny Sexton signs autographs for fans after a open training session at The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on thursday Morning 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

PACEMAKER BELFAST 5/3/2015 Ireland's Johnny Sexton signs autographs for fans after a open training session at The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on thursday Morning Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

PACEMAKER BELFAST 5/3/2015 
Ireland's Johnny Sexton signs autographs for fans after a open training session at The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on thursday Morning 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

PACEMAKER BELFAST 5/3/2015 Ireland's Johnny Sexton signs autographs for fans after a open training session at The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on thursday Morning Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Ireland Rugby Open Training Session, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 5/3/2015
Janet Coleman takes a picture with Rory Best
Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

Ireland Rugby Open Training Session, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 5/3/2015 Janet Coleman takes a picture with Rory Best Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritcha

Ireland Rugby Open Training Session, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 5/3/2015
Jared Payne signs autographs for fans
Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

Ireland Rugby Open Training Session, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 5/3/2015 Jared Payne signs autographs for fans Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritcha

Ireland Rugby Open Training Session, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 5/3/2015
Forwards coach Simon Easterby and Rory Best arrive
Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

Ireland Rugby Open Training Session, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 5/3/2015 Forwards coach Simon Easterby and Rory Best arrive Mandatory Credit ?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

?INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritcha

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Paul O'Connell
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Paul O'Connell ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Presseye

Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Paul O'Connell
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Paul O'Connell ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Rory Best.
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Rory Best. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill

Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Devin Toner and Rory Best.
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Devin Toner and Rory Best. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Sean O'Brien.
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Sean O'Brien. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today.
Jack McGrath. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Jack McGrath. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Sean O'Brien
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Sean O'Brien ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Kevin Toner and the Ireland team arrive
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Kevin Toner and the Ireland team arrive ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Ulsters new Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Les Kiss
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Ulsters new Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Les Kiss ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Ulsters new Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Les Kiss
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Ulsters new Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Les Kiss ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Ulsters new Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Les Kiss
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Ulsters new Director of Rugby and Head Coach, Les Kiss ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Devin Toner and Tomy Bowe
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Devin Toner and Tomy Bowe ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Jack McGrath, Devin Toner and Tommy Bowe.
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Jack McGrath, Devin Toner and Tommy Bowe. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Jack McGrath
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Jack McGrath ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Rory Best
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Rory Best ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015
Ireland holding an open training session today  for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. 
Paul O'Connell.
?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard 5th March 2015 Ireland holding an open training session today for the first time since the redevelopment of the Ground at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Belfast today. Paul O'Connell. ?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

?Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Fans during an open training session at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast

It was a welcome fit for rock stars.

Rugby fans were out in force yesterday morning as Ireland arrived in Belfast for an open training session.

All 5,000 free tickets were snapped up within 48 hours of going online as kids, teachers and parents flocked to the Kingspan Stadium to see their heroes up close.

Indeed one child got even more than that after he was presented with a jersey signed by the entirety of Joe Schmidt's squad.

As he clutched his new memento, Johnny O'Kane (11) was especially pleased that his teachers at Stranmillis Primary had made the decision to forgo their morning lessons and make the trip see Joe Schmidt's men.

"I love rugby and it's amazing that we got to see the team," he said. "We've to go back to class now unfortunately but it was great to be here."

While there were many schools in attendance, one Saintfield child had special reason to be grateful to his teacher.

When Cliff Owens found out yesterday that a friend could supply him with two tickets, he immediately thought of his 11-year-old son Jack-James.

First though, it had to be cleared at his school, Academy Primary.

The father said: "I had the day off but I had to call his school.

"His teacher knows what he's like about rugby, he's fanatical, so he said it was OK to have him out for a few hours.

"He had no idea he was coming here. I told him he was getting his eyes tested."

Not even suspicious after being urged to wear his Ireland jersey to the optician, the youngster had quite the shock in store.

"It was a really big surprise when we got to the front gate," he said.

"I'm so glad I got to see the players. It's made my day. Thank you Mr Fagan." Meanwhile, Kingspan was also the scene of an exciting Schools' Cup semi-final yesterday which saw Wallace High beat holders Methodist College 12-10.

The Lisburn school, which has never won the competition despite being in four previous finals, will play the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in the final on St Patrick's Day.

Background

The Ireland rugby team is in the middle of a Six Nations campaign which sees them sitting on top of the leader board after three games. Joe Schmidt's men are still in the hunt for the Triple Crown and a Grand Slam title after avoiding defeat so far. Ireland next meet Wales at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, March 14. The team are the current holders of the Six Nations trophy.

Belfast Telegraph