Members of the Ireland squad and management team visited Stormont in Belfast this evening as their achievement of winning this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship was celebrated.
The event was hosted by Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, captain Paul O’Connell and IRFU President Pat Fitzgerald brought the Six Nations trophy north for the historic visit to Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings.
“It’s been a great honour to be here at Stormont, and it’s been great meeting some of the people who have been really incredibly supportive of Ulster Rugby, with the ministers having backed the redevelopment of Ravenhill which is now a world class facility,” said Schmidt.
Brian O’Driscoll, who finished his international career as Ireland’s record try scorer and world rugby’s most-capped player, was one of the thirteen players present.
“It’s lovely to mark the occasion being up here in Stormont and understand that this is a whole-island team that needs representation in different sectors. It’s great to be here,” O’Driscoll told U105.
O’Connell remarked: “It’s brilliant to be received by the Northern Ireland Assembly and just to be recognised here. I thought we were going to get caught in traffic coming up, but Rory Best gave us plenty of local knowledge!
“We had a beautiful drive, coming up with Brian (O’Driscoll) and Fergus McFadden. It’s been a really nice evening, the sun has come out, it’s great.”
IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year Andrew Trimble led the local Ulster contingent which included Rory Best, Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson and Luke Marshall.
Tuohy and Marshall were presented with their Six Nations medals by Schmidt and O’Connell, having missed out on the celebrations in Paris through injury.
Minister Ní Chuilín commented: “It gives me great pleasure to host events such as this, which bring global stars to Stormont and recognise the sporting talent in our midst.
“The game of rugby in Ulster, and across Ireland, is played to a very high standard and it is wonderful to have the Six Nations champions here this evening. Each of these players are deserving of the highest praise and are an inspiration to us all.
“Recognising excellence in this way acts as a motivation to our young people to take up their preferred sport and to strive to be like their sporting heroes.
“In this context it is rugby, and the accomplishments of this winning team, that will inspire many to become involved in the game.
“For those already playing, it will spur them to greater levels as they seek to match and perhaps eclipse the achievements of those here tonight.”
The Minister also spoke about the successful redevelopment of nearby Ravenhill and her support of the proposed bid by the IRFU to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
She added: “Finally, I wish the Ireland team every success in the future, particularly for their upcoming Test series against Argentina which takes place next month.”