His boyhood dream has finally come true”, Sexton typed over an instagram video, with Rory Best wearing an awkward smile.
The venue for the ribbing was Celtic Park in Glasgow, at the launch of that season’s PRO14 final which was to be held at the home of the Hoops.
The ‘banter’ was a good insight into the comfortable relationship within the Ireland rugby team — with a Dublin catholic and a Northern Ireland protestant enjoying what was likely a typical enough spot of humour.
Best’s refusal to take the bait — in public at least — was one you’d come to expect from a player who was wearing an Ulster shirt that day — but also the Ireland captain.
When Leinster won the trophy in Glasgow nine months later, two of their players pulled on the iconic green and white shirt and when Best retired he pondered what might have been the reaction if an Ulster player had worn a Rangers top.
It’s part of the complex story of the Ireland rugby team, and now that Best is further away from the game, he has expanded on how he felt in the role of a Northern Ireland Protestant representing the entire island.
“I don’t think I ever felt out of place, but sometimes you had to be quite careful,” he said. “Ultimately, I think it’s about being respectful, you’re representing Ireland and everything that goes with Ireland.
“When I made that comment about the Celtic jerseys, if it had have been the other way around, you’re starting to border on disrespectful and that’s somewhere you’d never want to go.
“I wouldn’t necessarily have done anything like that — even from an Ulster flag point of view, some guys have flags on their boots, I would have maybe put the Ulster hand on it...that’s as far as I would have gone, because that encompasses Ulster, and there’s obviously three counties there in the south.
“I didn’t feel I needed to make any big statements to anyone... I was comfortable being from the north and being a Protestant from the north...and I was very comfortable in that all I ever wanted to do was represent Ireland.”
With Ireland games almost exclusively held in Dublin and a majority of fans based in the south, was there ever a sense that the ‘respect’ Best speaks of being a one way street?
“Ah there was always a lot of slagging going on both ways, to be fair,” he said, “but I think it’s good whenever you’re comfortable enough to slag each other.
“I remember the craic, especially at World Cup camps, because we’d be in camp around July, and everyone loves to do the Ian Paisley Senior impression around the 12th of July.
“You’d maybe try to get Adidas to send you a pair of orange trainers, every now and then for bit of craic. But when you’re comfortable to have those conversations as a group of players, it doesn’t become a point.
“It was totally just banter. People have very different beliefs and upbringings but you park it all on the side for the team.”
It’s put to Best that the dressing room might be a good place for some local politicians to visit.
“They wouldn’t be on their own,” he smiled. “There’d be plenty of politicians you could bring into a dressing room and show ‘this is how you get on with stuff’..ultimately you make decisions for the betterment of the team, and you put yourself below that.”
Best’s experience and reputation as Ireland captain would certainly garner more respect than a lot of those in offices of power right now, but the Poyntzpass man does not feel like it’s a role he’d relish.
“I feel like I’m part of a generation who wants what’s best...more so economically,” he said. “In terms of where we can make the most of where you live... where you can set yourself up and more importantly, set your family up to be in a better place.
“We obviously never want to go back to what we grew up with, that’s the biggest driver for me.
“What frustrates me about politics is it’s never just a picture where you can say ‘I can see what this looks like’ — you get a lot of tit for tat, and a lot of arguments about why the other side aren’t right, but you never get any arguments about what right looks like.
“So, that frustrates me, and it’s not something I’m overly interested in getting involved in. I follow it, because it interests me and affects me, but from a Northern Ireland point of view, you always wondered was there some sort of hybrid, where we could sit in the middle and get the best of both worlds.
“You don’t always get an opportunity to have a foot in both camps, and get benefits from both camps. But I don’t understand the intricacies of it enough to pass too much comment on it, but I know from an agricultural point of view, and food provenance, it’s really important to be recognised as somewhere that has that.”
Flags and banners have adorned the country in the last few months to celebrate the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland, while talk continues to grow around a potential border vote in the coming years.
Does an Ireland captain feel any obligation to speak out?
“I grew up always wanting to play for Ulster and always wanting to play for Ireland and when you have that focus you almost have the luxury of being a bit narrow minded,” he said.
“That’s just sport though, but my viewpoint is whatever’s the best economically...the biggest problem is people are so busy fighting and arguing, that nobody actually gives you that picture.
‘I don’t necessarily see any obligation (to speak out), my thing was I played for Ulster and I gave it everything I had, and when I played for Ireland, I gave it everything I had.
“I love where I live and I wouldn’t change where I live.”