Heroes return home


Several hundred ecstatic Ireland rugby supporters gathered in Dublin Airport this afternoon to welcome home their heroes who beat England at Twickenham yesterday to win the Triple Crown.

Team members signed autographs for supporters and had their photographs taken with the Triple Crown Trophy.

Following the 28-24 win at Twickenham captain Brian O'Driscoll described the triumph is a "stepping stone to bigger things".

"It’s an incredible reception. We weren’t anticipating this," he said today at Dublin airport. "We’ve had a bit of time for it to settle in and it feels good."

"We had great belief in the fact we always were in it. If there was one score, we felt we could still win the game.

"The fact we played right to the 80th minute was a credit to the team and I think it was the performance we’ve been waiting for in the championship."

Coach Eddie O’Sullivan said the celebrations after the victory had been quiet.  "It’s just beginning to sink in that we’ve won the Triple Crown," he said.

"It was late in the day yesterday and everyone was tired and emotional. I think the guys are going to get a couple of days off to relax and enjoy themselves and deservedly so," he said.

A supporter presented the coach with a rugby ball to sign: "Here Eddie, sign this, it’s not a new contract but you’ll definitely get one now," he said. O’Sullivan, who has a contract until the 2008 World Cup, laughed and  signed the ball.

Ronan O’Gara said he was thrilled by the public’s response. "I think all the boys got a kick out of it. It means a lot to the players and it set us off home in good form."

Secondrow Paul O’Connell believes Ireland have only hinted at their true potential and says the summer tour to the southern hemisphere will supply the true gauge of Irish progress.

"We’ll know how far we’ve come when we go down to the southern hemisphere and play Australia and New Zealand," he said.

"We toured both countries three and four years ago but without as good a side as we have now and nearly beat them. We’ll have to try and do the same again.

"A Triple Crown is brilliant but the big test will be the southern hemisphere. Look at the talent we have. Ireland have always had a good pack which can mix it with teams.

"But with the backs we have we should be kicking on from a Triple Crown. We need to start looking at Grand Slams and winning away from home in the southern hemisphere.

"We have to make the most of what we have because I don’t see a backline like the one we have coming around that often. Anything is possible with these players."