The victorious Ireland rugby team arrived back into Dublin Airport on Sunday afternoon to an ecstatic welcome after their Six Nations win.
Hundreds of fans congregated outside the Collinstown Suite entrance to welcome home the team that won back-to-back championships for the first time since 1949.
The team was led by captain Paul O'Connell, who held the replica Six Nations trophy aloft. The real one is in Twickenham and will not arrive until later in the week.
Arriving back on Irish soil, Irish outhalf Johnny Sexton said the 10,000 fans who stayed behind in Murrayfield on Saturday was the “highlight of my career so far”.
He reflected on an amazing day which started with a close first-half between Italy and Wales but ended up in a final score which was a “big shock” for the Irish team that had to win by at least 21 points.
“It probably helped us that a bit that we didn’t have anything to lose,” he said.
“We’re very proud of what we did yesterday. I just wish there was a Grand Slam in there as well,” he added, a view reflected in the fact that there was no major homecoming in Dublin city centre for the team, as there was in 2009.
Sexton revealed that there was "more drink than food" at their after-match meal which coincided with the England-France nailbiter.
“It was a crazy couple of hours,” he said, with considerable understatement.
At least he watched it. Prop Jack McGrath was in the stairwell for the last 10 minutes of the England-France game. “A few of us just couldn’t hack it.”
Man-mountain lock Devin Toner said they thought they had won the game until the French decided to tap a last penalty and run the ball from their own line.
“Thankfully, in the end they kicked it out and everything happened the way it was supposed to happen,” he said.
Jamie Heaslip raised the biggest cheer of the afternoon when he took the Six Nations trophy outside the barriers and allowed fans carry it to the team bus.
Sheena Lydon from Sandymount brought her two sons, Cathal and Darragh, to Dublin Airport. They attended every match except Saturday’s. “They are a great inspiration for boys like these who hopefully will play for Ireland.”
Sean Nangan said he has “hardly any nails left, my girlfriend may actually be deaf from my shouting. It was an amazing day of rugby. I loved every minute of it and wouldn’t swap it for anything.”
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 team are travelling on to a meal in the Four Seasons hotel in Ballsbridge on Sunday evening before returning to their provinces.
Earlier, victorious coach Joe Schmidt had said the team would have a meal together in Dublin, "but split pretty quickly" after that, as the provinces have commitments next weekend.
Schmidt said watching the England-France match last night was “torment”.
The England-France match took place during the Irish team dinner. By the end, he said, it was “pretty inevitable we would be watching it carefully”, he told the Sunday with Miriam programme.
Schmidt said he will be taking his 11-year-old son Luke, who has epilepsy, abroad for treatment now that the RBS Six Nations championship is over.
Team captain Paul O’Connell revealed the Irish team had watched the England-France match in the company of the Scottish team they had just trounced.
He told the Marian Finucane Show the game was hard to watch at times and some of the team could not watch it at all.
He added it was a more enjoyable win than last year and felt like "better craic". Centre Rob Henshaw said it was a "way better feeling than last year".
The players celebrated long into the night, and they had another celebration this morning as it is Ian Madigan’s 26th birthday.
The replacement No 10 tweeted a picture of a cake designed like an Irish rugby shirt. “What a birthday! @annakirwan47 thanks for the cake.
“This is what I have been thinking about since I started with this team. We might as well make the best of it.”
Man of the match
In addition, man-of-the-match Sean O’Brien, who scored two tries, tweeted a picture of his Six Nations medal and man-of-the-match award with the caption: “Went to sleep a happy man Last night! #specialdays thanks for all the unbelievable support.”
Congratulations have poured in from many sources on Ireland’s first back-to-back championship wins since 1949.
President Michael D Higgins praised the players' "remarkable achievement. The earlier win against Scotland demonstrated the commitment, determination and professionalism of this outstanding group of players and their management team".
"All of us now look forward to the continuing success of this team at the World Cup later this year," he said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny congratulated the team and praised them as “warriors”.
‘Guile and flair’
“The guile and flair shown by the Irish team was a sight to behold. I want to congratulate them on behalf of the Irish people, and the Government, on their victory and thank them sincerely for providing such excitement and joy to Irish sports fans at home and abroad.
“We look forward now with hope and confidence to the World Cup later this year.”