Luck and inspiration may have abandoned the Irish rugby team, but true fans are steadfast.
A small but very proud group of supporters gathered at Dublin Airport to greet the team as they flew home from World Cup disappointment yesterday. It wasn’t the thousands who travelled to Cardiff to see them in action, and it wasn’t the 1.3m who watched them on television against Argentina, but it nevertheless lifted a low-key homecoming into a heartwarming affair.
The team seemed prepared to put on a brave face as they emerged from a private exit off the main arrivals areas, with chins up but hands dug deep in their pockets and eyes looking a little anxiously around.
But they soon completed a conversion to smiling faces when cheered by small groups of children with autograph pens and programmes, jerseys, and sheets of paper to sign.
Having given all that was asked of them on the pitch, they were asked to go the extra mile here and they didn’t want to let the fans down.
Paul O’Connell, his right leg still encased in scaffolding, managed to stoop down to selfie height for youngsters and simultaneously sign autographs, all the while brushing off thanks and declaring: “It’s an honour, it’s an honour.”
Team coach Joe Schmidt spoke for them all when he praised the fans.
“It’s nice to be home but it’s not something we planned to do for another two weeks and it’s incredibly disappointing for us, particularly in light of the amount of support we’ve had,” said the New Zealander.
“It’s been overwhelming. I think the players were blown away, particularly in the French match with the volume of support. We’re incredibly disappointed but at the same time, really appreciative of that volume of support we’ve had.”
Among the supporters was Geraldine Harmon from Monkstown in Dublin and her grandchildren, Alex, nearly 6, and Zoe, nearly 5, both proudly wearing the green.
“We’ve always followed the rugby and now Alex loves following the team so we just thought it would be nice to come out and say well done to them,” she explained.
“They went out and represented their country and did well and it’s important to recognise that. Sport should be sport — it can’t always be about winning and that’s a good message for children because otherwise you can put them off playing for the love of it.
“Besides, England were knocked out before us. Did you hear the one about Paddy Englishman who went into the pub expecting to see Paddy Irishman, Paddy Scotsman, and Paddy Welshman but found out they were still at the World Cup?”
Brothers Philip, 17, and Peter Daly, 14, who are from Swords and play for Malahide Rugby Club, also wanted to show their appreciation for their heroes
“They’re very disappointed, I’m sure, but they had so many injuries and lost so many leaders they weren’t at their best,” said Peter.
“It’s like doing exams. Sometimes you don’t do as well as you expect. You can’t get bogged down in it. You have to get ready for the next one.”
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