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President Higgins Hosts Reception To Honour Ireland’s Grand Slam Champions

President Higgins Hosts Reception To Honour Ireland’s Grand Slam Champions

Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning players, coaches and backroom staff, together with their partners and IRFU officials, had the honour of being hosted by the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, at a special reception in Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday.

In Pics: Grand Slam Winners Attend President’s Reception

The NatWest 6 Nations and Triple Crown trophies, won over the course of a hugely memorable unbeaten spring campaign, took pride of place in the State Reception room as Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, captain Rory Best and IRFU President Philip Orr led the delegation welcomed by President Michael D Higgins.

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26 players from the Grand Slam group, including the Player of the Championship and top try scorer, Jacob Stockdale, attended the event on a sunny evening in the Phoenix Park. Like Stockdale, the vast majority of the current players were not part of the Ireland squad that last visited the Áras seven years ago prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Addressing those present yesterday, President Higgins said: “I am delighted to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin to honour your magnificent achievement in winning the greatest prize in European rugby, an Caithréime Mhór, the Grand Slam.

“When I say the greatest prize in European rugby, I am not seeking to provoke a disputation on that topic, I am of course talking about international rugby. I am sure you will all have your own views on how the Champions Cup compares for greatness, and that might also depend on whether or not you will be visiting the Basque country in the near future! But today we put provincial differences aside and celebrate your togetherness and your spectacular performance in representing Ireland in this year’s Six Nations competition.

“Though I often meet you before the big matches, I know that on those occasions many of you have other things on your mind. The weather also conspired against us meeting on your return from London so today is a deferred opportunity to gather together in more relaxed circumstances, so that I, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, can personally salute and congratulate the players, the management and support team, and also acknowledge the contribution of the partners, parents, family and friends, teachers and mentors who helped bring all of you to international rugby and your victory this year in the Six Nations.

“Such was the professionalism, skill and tactical acuity demonstrated throughout the Championship that it was difficult, momentarily, to recall that only twice before had the men’s national rugby team completed the clean sweep in the championship. It is a truly monumental achievement, accomplished against some of the finest teams in the world rugby.

“It is a credit to the IRFU’s organisation of the game in Ireland, that it has created the structures and supports in which a culture of success and achievement has emerged at the professional level of the sport. Many younger supporters have become used to the recent success, but for many who have been fans of Irish rugby for many years remember when the good years seemed few and far between. For us, St. Patrick’s Day was truly a day to relish and remember.”

He added: “Again and again, we saw the senior players on the squad stepping up and providing extraordinary and inspirational leadership, particularly in the battles against Wales and France. Rory Best, as captain, set the tone and so many of you followed his lead. Molaim sibh.

“We also witnessed the emergence of representatives of a new generation, whose entry into senior international rugby was undertaken with such panache and style, some even breaking new records for try-scoring. For those younger players here today, St. Patrick’s Day may have brought your first taste of international success, but for others, it is an addition to a career replete with accolades. Indeed, Rob Kearney and Rory Best now share the distinction of winning two Grand Slams.

“I also want to mention Peter O’Mahony and salute his act of exceptional kindness in giving his Grand Slam medal to a young Ireland fan (Jennifer Malone) in Twickenham that day. I know how appreciative you are, as a team, of the support you get from the Irish public and how you all show that by making yourselves available to supporters and to the public in your everyday lives.

“Peter’s act was symbolic perhaps of how we can use our positions in public life to acknowledge our dependence on each other, and through such acts, how we can inspire consideration, empathy and, that perhaps old-fashioned, but perfect word – kindness to those around us.

“I also want to pay tribute to the mastermind of this campaign, and of so many of the triumphs of recent years – your head coach Joe Schmidt. I know that Joe watched the trophy presentation from the tunnel on that St. Patrick’s Day, which is so demonstrative of his characteristic humility.”

Rory Best thanked the President and Mrs. Higgins for extending an invitation to the squad and management to the Áras. The Ireland captain spoke about the immense pride the players feel when pulling on the green jersey and how achieving success with Ireland is special not only for the players, but for their families and the communities that have supported them throughout their careers.

Click here to listen to President Higgins’ speech from the reception.