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'They are the best team mates you could possibly have'

Man of the match Josh van der Flier explains why Leinster’s players decided to ask retiring heroes Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden to lift the Pro14 trophy.

Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden lift the Pro14 trophy.
Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden lift the Pro14 trophy.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

AFTER REFUSING TO let anyone else get their hands on their Pro14 trophy, there was a certain irony in Leinster’s generous decision at the end to allow two retiring heroes be the ones to receive it on the team’s behalf.

Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden will soon bid farewell to Leinster. This was their farewell gift. It’s sure better than the traditional presents people get at work-dos.

“Personally they were heroes for me – guys I watched in school,” said Josh van der Flier, the Leinster man of the match. “They are the best team mates you could possibly have. That is why we wanted to do this gesture. It is going to be tough saying goodbye to them. For them to lift the trophy was special because they are a tremendous part of the club and have been for years.”

This was a leaving do with a difference. No fans were in the stadium – and worse again, Leinster could only bring a certain number of players into it – because of government guidelines. It meant a couple of dozen squad members had to stay and watch the game at home instead of being with the front liners to celebrate this win.

Afterwards coach Leo Cullen said: “It’s very strange being here all alone on the stadium. A lot of work goes in to getting here, huge credit to everyone who played. The biggest disappointment for us is that we do not have everyone here who played such a big part over the course of the season.

“We obviously have to go with the public health guidelines at the moment. But you’ve got a lot of guys that have played such an important role over the course of the season who were not able to be here. That’s tough because it creates this… not a split, but there’s some level of separation.

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“We have 30 players here, because there’s your 23 plus a few extras we were allowed bring. Guys that are currently training with us have been exceptional for us, over the course of the year. To go through the season unbeaten is special.

“You rely on your squad to do that. So that, now, is the hardest bit for us, that they’re not here with us. You’d love to have them here but, on the flip side, it’s important to have some level of context. We’re still appreciative of the fact that we’re back.”

rob-kearney-and-fergus-mcfadden-lift-the-guinness-pro14-trophy-as-leinster-are-crowned-champions Source: James Crombie/INPHO

And already they are looking forward. This time next week it is Saracens, a Champions Cup quarter-final. Little wonder Johnny Sexton was rested for over an hour of this game. Rotating his squad will continue to be the Cullen way.

“It’s common sense in my mind, utilising the players and experience we have in the group is very important,” Cullen said.

rob-herring-dejected A dejected Rob Herring walks off the field. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ulster’s Iain Henderson added: “We started brightly but the difference was that Leinster took their opportunities and we didn’t take outs. Hats off to them, they were brilliant. They are in incredible team to try and break down. That is what we found to be the most difficult thing. 

“If we ever come up against them in the future, we just need to be better. But it is not easy – simply because they are so good.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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