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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 15 April 2021

'It's one of the great days for us': Snow-delayed Ireland return to warm welcome after Grand Slam

Fans, family, and a Minister were at the Shelbourne to greet the Six Nations champions.

Peter O'Mahony Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE SNOW MEANT a flight delay came after homecoming party plans were abandoned, but there was still a delighted public to greet Ireland as they returned to the Shelbourne Hotel with five wins under their belt and two trophies to show off.

The excited residents took their cue from the TV cameras to assemble in eager anticipation. Some were family, some fans and behind them were American accents enquiring as to who the most popular player is or repeating the gag of welcoming the acclaim.

Patience was required before Rory Best set the cheers in motion as he walked in carrying the Six Nations trophy shimmering from reflected camera flashes.

Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Quinn Roux and Rory Scannell made their way through the crush minutes earlier, but without the pots or the tracksuit, the selfie-hunters let the injured or out-of-favour pass unnoticed.

There wasn’t much fervour for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross in the lobby either, but he was first to meet the team – and the trophies – as they disembarked the bus.

Rory Best and Shane Ross Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There had been murmurs of an early-morning meeting belatedly placed on the schedule by head coach Joe Schmidt. However, it seems as though the oft-dreaded review can wait.

“We didn’t have any meeting, we just had to make sure the bags were on the bus,” said Joey Carbery, a 22-year-old whose 10 caps are currently book-ended with two of the most momentous days in Irish rugby history.

Just as he showed as a replacement against the All Blacks in Chicago, Carbery was unflappable in Twickenham.

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Joey Carbery, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney celebrate winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Though circumstances have prevented the Athy man from clocking up as many top grade out-half minutes as would normally seem necessary, Carbery looked supremely composed when he came into the game as a blood sub for Johnny Sexton and duly pulled the strings in the lead-up to Jacob Stockdale’s game-sealing try on the stroke of half-time.

“We’re always told to play what we see in front of us. It was great to see Jacob get over.

Twickenham’s a huge moment and (shows) how much we’ve grown in the last year or so. We’re absolutely stoked and it shows how much we’re growing as a team.”

“It’s a special environment to be in. Everyone’s trying to learn, everyone’s trying  to get better. We’re striving for great things and it’s one of the great days for us.”

Since the full-time whistle blew yesterday, it’s been clear that it was an occasion for families as a whole to celebrate alongside the squad. Numerous players were able to tour the scene of victory with their children, while those without kids sought out their parents and friends.

That theme continued at the Shelbourne as the most genuine and heartfelt cheer rose above the rest: “Daddy!”

Adrianna Aki had watched the Shelbourne’s door more diligently than anyone as the wait went on for Ireland’s team bus and in particular, the terrific 12, to arrive.

Bundee Aki with his daughter Adrianna Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It had been a long night in London after an incredibly clinical win over the deposed champions. Rob Kearney – later misidentified as his brother Dave in tweet by Minister Ross – delivered a supremely dry response to the TV cameras when asked about the extent of the celebrations, alluding to a breakfast buffet comprising mostly of lager that many will have already seen on players’ social media accounts.

‘It was tame enough,” the double Grand Slam winner told TV3.

“Most people were gone to bed by three or four, but we were up early and breakfast was interesting.”

Kearney was among the last players to be moved towards the team’s function room, so he drew the last flurries of media attention as he was ushered off. So much so that even James Ryan was forced into his first backward step of the past seven weeks.

Jonathan Sexton, Rory Best, James Ryan and Conor Murray Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A captain in every team he played in before hitting the senior ranks in June, Ryan has consistently been a picture of intensity on and off the field since Team Ireland linked up in January. Now though, there is a weight off his shoulders and smile on his face.

“We touched down and the fire brigade were there, they had tricolours on top of the trucks. That was kind of cool, in fairness.

“Yesterday was an amazing day. I’m very lucky to be part of it all.

“Over the moon now today and looking forward to getting a few pints into me.”

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Sean Farrell

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