Home are the heroes as agony gives way to ecstasy with Six Nations triumph

Irish team greeted as they return in triumph to Dublin Airport

Jamie Heaslip raised the biggest cheer of another triumphant homecoming by hopping over the barrier at Dublin Airport to allow the fans to hold the RBS Six Nations trophy.

Except it wasn't actually the trophy. The real thing has been in Twickenham since Saturday evening, an indication of where the organisers felt it would eventually end up.

The trophy may not have been the real thing, but the universal feelings of relief and ecstasy were real enough as the fans passed the prized trophy among themselves until it ended up on the team bus.

The agonising closeness of the whole thing made the victory even sweeter for all concerned. The thousand or so fans who turned up yesterday were mostly families who see in the Irish team the kind of role models they hope their children will emulate.

Sheena Lydon from Sandymount brought her two sons, Cathal and Darragh. They attended every match except the Scotland one. "They are a great inspiration for boys like these who hopefully will play for Ireland. "

Aidan O’Neill travelled up with his three children from Birr. “They watched every kick of the three games. They were straight out with a rugby ball afterwards. They were nearly as exhausted as I was afterwards. It’s great for the country.”

The players looked rather sheepish, as they were entitled to be after a long night of happy partying. Saturday was a long day. They watched through the cracks in their fingers like the rest of us did. Some could not even bear to watch.

Couldn't hack it Replacement prop Martin Moore was in the stairwell for the last 10 minutes of the England-France game. "Some of us just couldn't hack it," he said.

Moore has played in two Six Nations campaigns. He has two championship medals: more than most who have played for Ireland have achieved in their entire careers.

For experienced players such as Johnny Sexton, winning the championship and partying with the 10,000 Irish fans who stayed behind in Murrayfield was the "highlight of my career so far".

There was more drink than food, he revealed, at the now infamous post-match dinner which was scheduled for the same time as the England-France game.

The squad opted not to have a bigger homecoming in Dublin city centre, though the fans would surely have turned out in their thousands. “There is a small part of us that wishes there was a Grand Slam in there as well,” revealed Sexton.

Nevertheless, even Paul O’Connell, the most popular man in the squad judging by the reaction he got from fans at the airport, thought winning the trophy on Saturday was “more craic” than winning it last year.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times