It was a fitting finish to the playing careers of Leinster lynchpins Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll as the province successfully defended their RaboDirect PRO12 crown against Glasgow Warriors in Saturday’s final.
Brian O’Driscoll’s 186th and final appearance for Leinster did not go to plan from a personal perspective – he was forced off with a suspected calf injury in the ninth minute – but he was delighted to join fellow retiree Leo Cullen in lifting the trophy afterwards.
O’Driscoll, celebrating his fourth league success, told RTÉ afterwards: “I’ve always said you can’t plan anything in this game. What happens happens and you’ve got to roll with the punches.
“It wasn’t going to be a good day for me today, only getting eight minutes or whatever but (winning) is what it’s all about.”
Asked what he will miss most from the game, he replied: “Hanging out with all your buddies and having a laugh, coming in every day and making sure that you’re well equipped with your abuse because you know there is some coming at you!
“I’ll miss that and the support that we’ve had. It’s been a two-way relationship. We’ve generated them but they’ve been great for us.”
Leinster’s captain on the day, Jamie Heaslip, was quick to praise the influence of the province’s bench as players of the calibre of Sean O’Brien, Ian Madigan and Cullen himself helped them add 20 points to their 14-12 interval lead.
“Just like Ulster in the semi-final, it was a massive squad effort there. The guys came off the bench in that last 20 minutes when it was still touch and go, and made a massive impact…upped it a level,” admitted Heaslip.
“Glasgow are an unbelievably tough side to go up against. I’m absolutely shattered after that and so are the rest of the boys. The ‘long goodbye’ is finally over and we can send the two boys off with a few drinks!
“It’s great to send the two boys off (with the title) and also the squad members who aren’t here today. I’m just delighted for everyone involved and everyone that’s supported us.”
The player who shone brightest of all in the Dublin sunshine was hooker Sean Cronin, whose explosive running and general work around the pitch saw him deservedly claim the man-of-the-match honour.
Already a Six Nations winner and member of the PRO12 Dream Team this year, Cronin reflected: “It’s a fantastic way to end the year. It’s what you see out to do at the start of the year, trying to win the league, and after we went out of Europe a bit early we had our focus on trying to win this competition.
“It’s a great feeling, there’s a few lads leaving us this year and it’s a great way to finish it.”
The Limerick man admitted that the departures of the likes of O’Driscoll, Cullen and forwards coach Jono Gibbes were not used as focal points for their fifth straight league final appearance.
“The lads were saying it’s not really a place for sentiment, it’s a place where we want to win – that’s the biggest way to give them a send-off and we did that today.
“A lot of credit goes to Matt (O’Connor) and the coaching staff. They’ve taken a bit of flak for maybe us not playing well, but we put 34 points on the board today and it’s a great way to finish it.
“The scoreline probably didn’t reflect Glasgow’s performance, they’re an awesome side. They’re probably the form team this season and that’s the great thing about play-offs – you can come in and try to play as well as you can and win a competition. We’re just delighted,” concluded Cronin.