Champions: Fans turn out to welcome Paul O'Connell and Irish heroes home after Six Nations triumph
WELCOME: Fans turn out in sunshine to welcome home O'Connell and boys after incredible Six Nations victory
IT was a homecoming worthy of a squad full of heroes.
Irish captain Paul O’Connell emerged into the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport lifting the Six Nations trophy aloft to thunderous cheers from hundreds of fans who had gathered to welcome the team home.
The heroes of Murrayfield, including star kicker Johnny Sexton and the man whose crucial tackle won the tournament, Jamie Heaslip, walked through the gates to the adulation of the crowd.
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There was a scrum of a different kind in arrivals as fans competed to get snaps with the team and the players were generous with their time.
Sexton told the Herald that scooping the Six Nations – for the second year in a row – is the “highlight” of his career.
He made a dream come through for at least one of the gathered fans when he stopped to chat to wheelchair user Patrick Greville (17) who attended every home game this year.
“I didn’t think he would get near [the players]”, Patrick’s mum Joan said.
“To have him spend so much time with him is just brilliant.”
The Irish team captured the imaginations of their fans when they achieved the near impossible yesterday – with a 40-11 win over Scotland at Murrayfield.
The clash came with extra tension as Ireland, along with Wales and England, vied for the title with the ultimate winner being decided by points difference.
The Irish team had to wait until England’s match with France ended to learn they had won the competition.
Thousand of fans, and no doubt some of the team, were biting their nails waiting for the final whistle.
There was a massive sigh of relief as England’s score of 55-35 wasn’t enough to land them the trophy.
Johnny Sexton called the wait “a crazy couple of hours”.
“I suppose you play your game, you do everything you can but then have to sit through another hour-and-a-half and watch another game that’s just as important as the one you’ve just played” Sexton said.
“I don’t know how many Irish people stayed in the stadium but we celebrated with them afterwards”.
Captain Paul O’Connell, who may retire after the World Cup later this year, said this year’s Six Nations victory was even better than in 2014.
He described the atmosphere in the stadium in Edinburgh where Irish fans had waited for the end of the England game.
“There was just people with green jerseys all over the place... There was music blaring it was like a disco. You know, we were asked was it better than last year and we said it was probably better craic than last year.”
Martin Moore, who’s new to the squad since 2014 spoke of his delight to be part of the winning team.
“There’s a lot of guys on the team that are like me, only in their second or third year, and to have it two from two is something pretty special,” he said.
“The support we had in the stadium was great. I think there was close to 10,000 people and we didn’t actually realise until we went back out.”
Reliving Saturday’s tense evening, head coach Joe Schmidt admitted he was shocked when France attempted to run the ball from their own line against England, with only seconds to go before Ireland could take the crown.
“I couldn’t believe when they tapped the penalty and time was up,” he said on RTE Radio yesterday.
“I thought ‘Oh no, they’ll give England another chance’, but thankfully that didn’t happen.”
Schmidt said that he will be taking a break from the game in order to look after his son, who is undergoing treatment overseas next week.
His 11-year-old son Luke suffers from epilepsy.
“The reality for me is that I’m on dad duty. I’ve got a sick son and we’re off overseas to see specialists to try to get some help with him, so the reality for me is a long way from rugby when we fly out on Tuesday.”
“So I’ll park the rugby for a little while, and we’ll see if we can get really lucky on both sides of what’s important to us, and then we’ll look towards the World Cup from the end of April,” he said.