Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier. James Crombie/INPHO
that winning feeling

'It's an unbelievable feeling, just so much pride to play for this country'

Ireland’s Josh van der Flier and Mack Hansen reflect on a special day at Aviva Stadium.

DREAMS BY THE Cranberries rings around the Aviva Stadium. Standing near the touchline shortly after the Ireland squad had lifted the Six Nations trophy, the experience provides a greater understanding of just how loud it can get down at pitch level as Josh van der Flier struggles to hear some of our questions.

It’s been a dream couple of months for the flanker. The current World Player of the Year now has another Six Nations medal in his pocket, and today’s defeat of England means he’ll forever be part of Irish Rugby history as a member of the first Ireland team to win a Grand Slam in Dublin.

“Very special. I don’t think it will sink in the whole week,” Van der Flier says, gold medal hanging off his neck.

“I’ve been trying just to prepare the way I would for a normal game, not think about the consequences of a win, I was just trying to play the game. I’m sure it will sink in soon enough but it’s incredibly special.

It’s an unbelievable feeling, just so much pride to play for this country. To do it with this group is incredible. The support has been unbelievable throughout and it’s nice to do it for them, and for our families all here at home.”

The win was made all the more sweeter given Ireland had to work for it against a stubborn, if limited England side. For long periods of an absorbing contest, England threatened to spoil the party.

“They were brilliant, full credit to them,” he continues.

“Obviously it’s tough going down a man with the red card but they made it incredibly tough for us in the second half. Full credit to the lads, we managed to pull through but it was a really good performance by England with their backs against the wall after losing a man. They definitely deserve credit for a good game but I’m absolutely thrilled to come out with a win.

“We’ve had a bit of adversity in games throughout this championship and it’s probably similar, but in the opposite way, in that the other team was down. But it was trying to stay calm and stick to the system, to keep performing and not relax. That was the pleasing thing about the game.

We’re just thrilled to pull it out and get a win because there was obviously a lot of pressure with everyone talking about a Grand Slam. To achieve it is incredible.”

Everyone was talking about Johnny Sexton, too. The Ireland captain dominated many of the pre-game headlines as he prepared to line out in the Six Nations for the last time, and today the 37-year-old got the send-off the crowd had come to see – kicking nine of Ireland’s 29 points.

“He’s a hero, what a man. I’m so happy for him. To see him going around with the trophies, with his kids, all his family here, he deserves every bit of it and I’m so happy for him.”

Post-game, both Sexton and Andy Farrell were keen to stress that they hope there’s more to come from this team. They’ll enjoy tonight and celebrate this achievement but they also know there’s now a real chance to do something special at a World Cup.

“The focus all along has been to keep improving and getting better,” Van der Flier continues. “We’ll hopefully push on but we’ll just enjoy this for the moment.”

Ireland winger Mack Hansen only made his Test debut last year. Now he’s a Grand Slam champion.

“It’s hard to put into words at the moment. It’s a crazy feeling,” Hansen says.

james-lowe-hugo-keenan-mack-hansen-and-jimmy-obrien-celebrate-with-the-guinness-six-nations-championship-trophy Ireland's James Lowe, Ireland's Hugo Keenan, Ireland's Mack Hansen and Ireland's Jimmy O'Brien. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s just been such an atmosphere, it’s crazy. It’s different gravy, isn’t it. It’s like something I’ve never seen before, it’s incredible. It just shows how much Ireland is behind us, and we love it.

“This is what footie is all about, connecting with people in the stadium, it means as much to them as it does to us.

“It wasn’t our best game but that’s purely because England showed up, they played unbelievable. Fourteen lads, to take it to us like they did, you can’t say what they did wasn’t amazing. We were able to just keep calm, composed, and pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

Most of the players had plenty of family and friends in the crowd but for Hansen, he’ll have to catch up with a couple of late night phone calls.

“I’ve got my Mum’s brother (here), and my auntie and uncle Gabe and Lorraine are over, and some aunties and uncles up from Cork. One of my mates from Australia is over. I got enough family to enjoy, I wish my Mum, Dad and brother were here.

“I’m just shell-shocked. Walking around the stadium was one of the best moments of my life, that’s probably the best way to sum it up.”

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