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Thursday 24 May 2018

It's deja blue as heroes celebrate European Cup win with loyal fans

Leinster's Tadhg Furlong does the floss dance on stage at the Leinster homecoming
Leinster's Tadhg Furlong does the floss dance on stage at the Leinster homecoming
Leinster fans Rory and Michelle Butler pictured with their children Julia, Lorena and Olivia at Donnybrook yesterday

Home are the heroes, as fans turned out in their to welcome the Leinster rugby team back yesterday.

The event was organised after the team's heart-stopping finale, in which they once again triumphed in the European Champions Cup, beating Racing 92 in Bilbao on Saturday, by a score of 15-12.

The timing couldn't have been better, as supporters basked in the afternoon sunshine. Amid roars and cheers, the team - which was led out by captain Isa Nacewa - took to the stage in Energia Park, Donnybrook.

The Champions Cup took pride of place on the stage, and head coach Leo Cullen admitted that "just right at the end of the game, I was pretty emotional".

Selfless

"It's amazing. We had some amazing support. When we drove into the ground in Bilbao, and just as the bus arrives into the stadium, to see a sea of blue, support there was fantastic," he told RTE broadcaster Damien O'Meara, who interviewed the team on the stage.

"The lads turned it into a nail-biting game, but it was a great occasion for us."

He also paid tribute to his captain, Nacewa.

"It is hard to put into words the impact he's had, that everyone sees on the field. But it's also the impact he's had off the field as well," he said.

"There is a quote on the wall in the gym, and it's, 'Rugby is a selfless game'. And I haven't come across anyone who fits that description better.

"We have been very, very lucky to have him for as long as we have had."

He said that the support the team receives allows them to do a lot of things.

"Keep turning out for us," he urged, pointing out they have another big game on Saturday, when the team are due to face Munster.

Nacewa, who kicked the winning penalties, said: "It's a massive squad effort for the whole of Leinster."

He paid warm tribute to the club, and said it has been a massive part of his life, and that of his family, for around 10 years.

"Simone [his wife] has been there through it all. She's been my rock through it all," he said.

"It's a great time to be part of Leinster."

Team-mate Johnny Sexton, who took on his former club, said: "It was a dream come true to win it with these lads and hopefully there's a few more in this group. It's a young group.

"Hopefully we can push on again," he added.

Some of the biggest cheers of the day were reserved for Tadhg Furlong, who gave a demonstration of the "floss dance", the new viral dance craze.

Among the supporters in the crowd were Denise O'Brien, from Ferns, and Hazel Brown, from Tallaght, who were actually at the match in Bilbao on Saturday, and also made it to the homecoming event.

"We were there for the day trip and we had to leave," said Denise.

She said that the pair had got up at 4.30 in the morning to head to Bilbao, and got back at 1.30am yesterday.

"The atmosphere was incredible. It was absolutely amazing."

Carl Burke, from Booterstown in Dublin, who brought his son Jack (6) to the homecoming, said that yesterday he booked his 2019 final tickets for Newcastle next May with a group of friends.

He said that the lads had done Nacewa proud.

Richard Fegan, from the Navan Road in Dublin 7, brought his son Sean to Energia Park because they are big Leinster fans.

He said the game on Saturday wasn't pretty, "but the result was all that mattered".

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