Lions of Paris come home to deafening roar

O’Connell leads squad home to heroes’ welcome in Dublin

Sun, Mar 16, 2014, 19:05

It was a strange sort of homecoming for anyone flying into Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 in the hour before the lions of Paris touched down today, with each new arrival met by cheers and choruses of Ireland’s Call sung by more than 1,000 fans who had descended on the airport to welcome the new Six Nations champions home.

A man with impressive facial hair came through the sliding doors. “It’s Gordon Darcy and his beard” came a shout from the crowd. A great cheer went up as the man blushed and looked bemused. Then the singing started again. “Ole, Ole Ole” this time. “Ah would ya stop, that’s for the soccer,” someone shouted. The crowd sang it anyway and added a chorus of You’ll Never Beat The Irish for good measure. For once it was true.

The Irish team’s appearance with the trophy was a long time coming but when captain Paul O’Connell eventually led his squad through arrivals an hour behind schedule, the roar could have drowned out the engine of a jumbo jet. The scrum around the battered and bruised players as they signed autographs and shook hands was more powerful than anything the French had been able to muster in yesterday’s heart-stoppingly close encounter.

Evelyn Hughes had travelled from Newtownmountkennedy to be greet the team. She held up her nails, painted green ahead of yesterday’s match. There wasn’t much green left. “They’ve done this country a great service but they’ve not been so kind to my nails. I’ve none left. I think I bit the last of them when we were waiting to hear if that last French try was going to be given,” she said.

O’Connell acknowledged the stress his team had caused a nation once again. “For five or 10 minutes towards the end I didn’t think we’d be coming back with the trophy,” he said as he held it tightly in his giant hands. It was clear how much it all meant to him. “I thought the captaincy has passed me by with my injuries last year so to captain the team to the championship this year is really, really special,” he told The Irish Times.

There were questions about Bod. Lots and lots of them. The great man himself was shielded from the press maul having given his all in the days, weeks and minutes leading up to yesterday’s fairytale end to his international career. “Some great players have retired over the last number of years but not many would have been able to write a script like this,” O’Connell said. “When he came off the pitch there was a feeling that this was the end of something really special.”

It wasn’t all about Bod, however, and O’Connell also addressed the issue of Gordon Darcy’s beard shaved off as part of the celebrations. “I was standing close by as it was shaved off but it had nothing to do with me,” he said. “I think he’s going to grow it back. I reckon he’s happy enough with it.”

Head coach Joe Schmidt was hoarse but happy enough too. He was also calm and focussed and had his feet firmly on the ground as he talked about the game just gone and about the challenges that lie ahead both for the national team and the provinces. “The team drives themselves and that makes my job easier,” he said with typical understatement.

He was asked about Bod. “Fairytales do happen. Sometimes they happen because you get lucky but the harder Brian worked, the luckier he got.” He said Ireland’s talisman would be leaving behind a big pair of shoes which someone would have to grow into and when asked had he any special last words for O’Driscoll in the dressing room last night he replied. “I just said ‘thanks, mate’. And that was that.”