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Wednesday 7 December 2016

A homecoming fit for heroes

Robbie Brady is greeted by delighted fans as the team arrive at Dublin Airport Photo: PA
Robbie Brady is greeted by delighted fans as the team arrive at Dublin Airport Photo: PA
Fans await the arrival of the team Photo: PA
Caitlin Donohoe, Yvonne Curran and Aoibheann Donohoe at Dublin Airport to greet the team Photo: PA

Irish players and fans were toasted as heroes when the country's Euro 2016 squad touched down on home soil after being eliminated on Sunday.

An emotional Robbie Keane paid tribute to the Ireland fans and players in what may be his last act as captain of the squad as the Boys in Green arrived home. The skipper and the back-room staff were both clear on one thing: Ireland's young players make for a bright future.

Players like Robbie Brady, Darren Randolph and Jeff Hendrick emerged as the key stars in Ireland's unexpected run to the final 16.

Although their arrival home was tinged with sadness at being knocked out of the competition, the mood in Dublin airport was hopeful and everyone was clearly proud of what the team achieved in France.

Dozens of fans gathered to greet the squad as they landed - some players staying for a matter of only hours before heading back to their clubs in the UK.

Robbie spoke briefly as he and his teammates signed autographs and posed for photos.

Legends

During his tribute one woman told him "you're still legends" and a spontaneous round of Ole, Ole, Ole broke out among the assembled group.

"I'm very, very emotional. The players were absolutely magnificent; they poured their heart and soul into this competition. I couldn't ask for a better set of players to play with. You don't see what goes on behind the scenes, these players are desperate to do their best for their country. They've done that.

"It's very important as captain of this country to say that because it brings tears to my eyes and makes me feel like a very, very proud Irishman," Robbie Keane said.

He thanked the fans profusely for their support, which has made headlines around the world. The journey had been "incredible" but for the country's top goal-scorer the only direction is up at the moment.

"The journey is only beginning with these young players," he said.

Manager Martin O'Neill also had sincere words of gratitude to both the Ireland camp in the stands and at home, as well as to the players.

Sensational

"We want to try and continue an upward spiral, if at all possible. The support has been sensational and the players, I have to say, were unbelievable," he said.

"[It took] every ounce of energy they had in their bodies to play yesterday, when the other team maybe had a few days' rest and we were denied perhaps the sort of support we had seen in the previous three games.

"Despite all of those things they have been magnificent, and on behalf of [the back-room staff] and Roy, it's been a privilege to be involved with them," he said.

Robbie Brady emerged from the flight clutching a signed ball from the French game, a reminder of the tournament in which the Raheny native became a household name.

Derby player Jeff Hendrick took to social media last night after arriving back from France.

"I've just had the best few weeks of my life. Pleasure representing this great country," he said.

Fans young and old cheered gleefully when the players finally emerged to greet them.

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