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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019

'It's not about the fifth star but chasing up to number ten': Leinster celebrate in style

Leo Cullen’s squad joined hundreds of supporters to continue the celebrations after their record-equalling fourth European title.

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook

THESE ARE SENSATIONALLY heady days for Irish rugby, and the good times keep rolling for Leinster as they triumphantly paraded the Champions Cup trophy, having returned to the summit of European rugby after a six-year wait.

Dan Leavy lifts the European Rugby Champions Cup trophy Dan Leavy lifts the Champions Cup trophy on stage. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Leo Cullen’s squad were welcomed home by hundreds of their adoring fans at Donnybrook this afternoon as the celebrations showed no sign of letting up, and why should they?

The province claimed a record-equalling fourth European crown in Bilbao on Saturday evening, showing huge grit and determination to eek out a match-winning penalty at the death having trailed from early on.

Relief and pride were the overwhelming feelings at the end of an epic arm-wrestle, but victory over Racing 92 was a fitting culmination to a faultless season which had seen the province emerge as the dominant force in European rugby again.

Just as they have done all season, Leinster’s support base travelled in huge numbers to Spain and, as has so often been said before, were a real point of difference as the players drew from their energy to get over the line.

Murrayfield, the Millennium Stadium, Twickenham, and now Bilbao’s San Mamés Stadium. Indelible days in the blue, and the connection between the players and supporters was no more evident than in the turnout and atmosphere for Sunday’s official homecoming event.

Hundreds of supporters, young and old, gathered at Donnybrook from early afternoon to give the squad a hero’s welcome as the club revelled in the achievement of a fourth European star under glorious blue skies.

After a long night of celebrations, the players made the short trip across from Leinster’s UCD headquarters, many of whom were joined by their families, and received a huge roar as captain Isa Nacewa led the team onto the stage with the silverware in tow.

“It’s a great time to be involved with Leinster,” the 35-year-old said, who will bring the curtain down on his illustrious time with the province at the end of this season.

Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Sexton take selfies with fans Sean O'Brien and Johnny Sexton with young supporters. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“It’s a massive squad effort from the whole of Leinster. It was pretty special and a great bunch of guys to do it with. There are plenty more stars in the future for sure.

“It’s not about the fifth star but chasing up to number ten.”

Leo Cullen, who yesterday became the first person to win the European Cup as a player and coach, echoed the words of Nacewa and then praised the fans for their loyal and unwavering support throughout the course of a memorable season.

“It’s amazing, we’ve had some unbelievable support,” the head coach said.

“It turned into a nail-biting game but it was a great occasion. A lot of hard has had to go in to compete again at this level and the support plays a huge part in that as well.

“The support allows the team to do a lot of things, so keep turning out for us and there’s another big game for us on Saturday. And we can do it all over again.”

The celebrations will be put on hold for now, as it’s back to work tomorrow ahead of Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final against Munster at the RDS.

Leinster have never completed the double but with confidence high and the team riding the crest of a wave, they have their sights firmly on just that — and it’ll take something special to stop them.

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Ryan Bailey

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