Paris may be mourning after the Notre Dame cathedral fire, but for a little girl from Kerry, it provided the experience of a lifetime last weekend.
Hanna O’Connell, an 8-year-old primary school pupil from Abbeydorney outside Tralee, is one of Simon Zebo’s biggest fans and he rewarded her by flying her and her mum Marisa to the French capital to watch him play for Racing 92.
The pair had met once or twice before when she was very small, including in Dingle. When he announced in late 2017 he was leaving Munster and joining Racing, Hanna was disappointed.
A few months before he left, Hanna brought a sign to Thomond Park that read “We’ll Miss You Zeebs’. He saw her, took a picture, and it went all over Twitter.
At Christmas Hanna, via Marisa, sent the player a happy Christmas video message, which he saw and shared. A member of the Racing supporters’ club in Paris saw it and arranged for Zebo to sign two flags for Hanna — one Munster and one Racing 92. He dedicating them to “his biggest fan”.
That face you make when not one, but two, signed flags from @SimonZebo arrive at your door on Valentine's Day of all days! Thank you so so much for making Hanna's day 💕 And thank you @graablegreg for making this happen. We are overwhelmed x #yourbiggestfan #treasuredgift pic.twitter.com/1V4MV5L51a— Marisa Reidy (@marisapreidy) February 14, 2019
The flags arrived in the post on Valentines Day and when Marisa shared a picture of Hanna with them and tagged Simon, thanking him, he invited her to Paris to see him play, tweeting:
Last weekend Hanna and her mother had the honour of being his guests in Paris, meeting his children and getting VIP treatment at the game against Montpellier.
They got to stay in the team hotel and Simon met them there on Saturday night.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t playing on Sunday, but as well as VIP seats with his family, Hanna and Marisa were treated to a tour of the stadium after the game.
Zebo showed them around the stadium and presented Hanna with a Racing 92 jersey signed by the team.