The late Monsignor Horan would have approved

Some 14 hours before Galway produced a rapturous reception for Connacht Rugby, the squad landed into Ireland West Airport Knock by charter to an unexpected welcome by some 2,000 fans. It set the tone for the next 24 hours after Connacht fans, some having driven from Westport, waited patiently for the delayed Titan flight.

"The late Monsignor Horan wanted a real Connacht airport, and here we have one," roared the welcoming MC. "Tonight we have a real Connacht team, and if he is looking down, I think this is what he envisaged, something like we have tonight, it is absolutely fantastic."

Further applause followed Pat Lam's introduction: " Dia dhuit, everyone. Lá bródúil do dhaoine Chonnacht - a proud day for Connacht people.

"Everything we do is all bout the people, in Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway and Mayo," he told the cheering fans. "I would like to thank everyone for the support. We have been riding the support of everyone and we really appreciate it - this trophy here truly belongs to the west of Ireland - the west is awake."

Captain Muldoon followed: "A phenomenal day form the minute we woke up this morning. Above all else I'd like to thank all the people who provide players, who have come through from clubs like Ballina, Westport, Portumna, Claremorris, this is as much for you as us. This will be a day that lives with us for the rest of our lives."

With a police escort, the two buses containing squad members, management, Connacht Rugby staff and sponsors, followed the N59 route home, and were surprised yet again by bonfires lit en route to Galway.

"It was a surprise," said Ronan Loughney. "We were not expecting anything, just planning on getting the bus straight back to Galway. But it was unbelievable. The amount of people who turned out, and it was so late at night.

"Then on the way, the bonfires in every town. For people to wait up for us to pass in just two seconds was incredible, and is testament to the support we have. They follow us through everything and everywhere, and it was just a pleasure to be part of it.

Twelve hours later unprecedented numbers flooded the streets of Galway to welcome the champions to the Sportsground.

From the courthouse to the home of Connacht Rugby in College Road, thousands lined the streets, as the squad, aboard an open top bus, was saluted by supporters for their winning endeavours this season.

Headed by captain John Muldoon, carefully clutching the Pro 12 trophy, the bus pulled into the Sportsground to find generations of families had filled the training pitch where a special stage had been erected for this special homecoming.

The well-managed event, organised by the Galway City Council and Connacht Rugby, began with a stirring edition of The West's Awake, the ballad familiar to all Sportsgrund fans on matchdays.

Led by both Muldoon and coach Pat Lam, the team received a rapturous reception as fans chanted "Connacht, Connacht, Connacht".

The Mayor of Galway City, Frank Fahey, who had travelled to Edinburgh in a personal capacity for the final, opened the reception, claiming the "famine is over".

"We have winners. They went to Edinburgh to win, they have won, and they are fantastic."

Pat Lam, opening his speech in Irish, said the team represented the whole province - Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim Roscommon and Galway.

"When the going got tough on the field, and we were under pressure, and also on the weekend, what makes Connacht dig deep is the people we represent. For the guys it is quite emotional to see the people all here today."

Muldoon "rarely stuck for words two days in a row", said the Connacht squad thought every last man, woman and child had left Connacht when the team arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday.

"And to arrive home last night with all the bonfires and to come here today, we thank you so much. I speak for myself and everyone that the amount of messages, support from families, partners and friends, those who have come up in the wind and rain to Sportsground over the years. This makes it all worthwhile. It is very humbling to see the amount of people, people who have worn the jersey before us, familiar faces - its phenomenal. The amount of youngpeople who will go on to wear the Connacht jersey and those behind me who will continue to wear Connacht and Irish jerseys for years to come."

Muldoon said it was time to start looking forward.

"It is not about what was done in the past, it is what is going to come, and it is a bright bright future. See you in September, we have a title to defend."

The crowd bayed for Bundee Aki, but the Kiwi who has endeared himself to the Sportsground in the last two seasons, was absent along with Denis Buckley and Nathan White.



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