Cham­pi­ons Cup joy for Co­nan and Cullen

Cullen be­comes first man to play for and coach a win­ning side

Bray People - - SPORT - DANIEL GOR­MAN Sports Re­porter

JACK CO­NAN will go head-to­head with some of rugby’s big­gest and tough­est men with­out flinch­ing but get­ting on the wrong side of his mum ter­ri­fies him.

Some of Ire­land’s Six Na­tions medals fa­mously went miss­ing in the af­ter­math of their Grand Slam vic­tory over Eng­land so Co­nan kept a close eye on his gold in Bil­bao to avoid the wrath of his mum, Ann, who was watch­ing from the stands.

Co­nan re­placed Jordi Mur­phy in the 61st minute but would have a cru­cial in­volve­ment as he ploughed Teddy Thomas into touch and Rac­ing 92 would sub­se­quently be caught off­side - paving the way for Isa Nacewa’s win­ning penalty.

The Bray man was also clos­est to Remi Tales as his last-gasp drop goal at­tempt failed to hit the tar­get. The 25-year-old failed to make the block but it mat­tered lit­tle.

“I was be­side the ruck and the nine passed it back to the 10 and I sprinted for my life and I was nowhere near it but I got up off the ground and I looked back and I knew it had gone wide. It was an un­be­liev­able mo­ment.

“It took me a sec­ond to find the ball and then I saw that Rob (Kear­ney) was chas­ing after it and it had gone dead and I knew 80 min­utes was up at that stage so that was us. In­cred­i­ble mo­ment - in­cred­i­ble feel­ing.”

Co­nan was speak­ing to Off The Ball after the match and was strug­gling to ar­tic­u­late the phe­nom­e­nal feel­ing of be­ing a cham­pion of Europe but he doesn’t want this to be the last suc­cess of his sea­son.

“It’s sur­real at this stage, I don’t think it’s re­ally sunk in. What a day - May 12th, 2018. It’s some­thing I’ll never for­got. To come on and play my part and help out the lads and get the win was just a dream. I don’t re­ally have any words about it at the mo­ment - it’s just bucket-list stuff.

“It’s only the be­gin­ning as well for Le­in­ster rugby and I’m ex­cited to go on, we’ve a mas­sive two weeks with the semi-fi­nal next week and that’s what we’ll be fo­cus­ing on. There’ll be no sit­ting around and cel­e­brat­ing this - we’ll en­joy tonight but come Mon­day we’ll flick the switch and (the fo­cus will be) Mun­ster in the RDS.

“It’s Cham­pi­onship rugby and it’s all about those tiny, tiny mar­gins. There was one penalty in it. Even though we didn’t go out and play the way we orig­i­nally planned to play - we didn’t play the Le­in­ster rugby way - it’s a tes­ta­ment to the squad that we were able to dig in and play any style of rugby to get the win. It was an ex­tremely tough chal­lenge against a for­mi­da­ble side that had un­be­liev­able ball-car­ri­ers and strength up front.”

Much to Ann’s de­light, Co­nan now has a Six Na­tions and Cham­pi­ons Cup medal to pol­ish but Satur­day’s achieve­ment meant more as he did more to earn in than the Grand Slam.

“Paddy’s Day was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence but I didn’t get to tog out that day and I didn’t get to con­trib­ute on the day so this to me is just that bit more spe­cial be­cause I had an im­pact in it. Ob­vi­ously it was un­be­liev­able to be with the lads on Paddy’s Day and win a grand slam but to be here and ac­tu­ally get on the pitch and con­trib­ute was just some­thing ex­tra spe­cial.”

Co­nan’s Head Coach, Ash­ford’s Leo Cullen has now won the Eu­ro­pean crown as a player and a coach.

“It was tough to watch that last 20 min­utes. Tor­tur­ous in many ways.

“It was an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing in the end, per­haps made more spe­cial by the pain we had to go through watch­ing that.”

Cullen added, “I think ob­sessed is prob­a­bly the word I’d use about this tour­na­ment. I am very lucky. The club is very sup­port­ive of me.”

“We have a love af­fair with this tour­na­ment.”

“A lot of work goes into, for the most part, pro­duc­ing home­grown play­ers, and you can see the young guys there who did so well for us to­day.

“We have clubs and schools we rely heav­ily on to pro­duce play­ers and then we re­cruit a cou­ple of guys to add to it all from the out­side.

“We’re just pleased to see that

the work goes on. We have a love af­fair with this tour­na­ment.

“But it’s mainly about credit to the play­ers be­cause they are the ones who put out the brave deeds on the day.

“And es­pe­cially guys like Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sex­ton - their in­flu­ence on the team is so cru­cial. They are two very ded­i­cated lead­ers so I’m very pleased for them.”

Bray’s Jack Co­nan cel­e­brates after the Eu­ro­pean Rugby Cham­pi­ons Cup fi­nal be­tween Le­in­ster and Rac­ing 92.

Le­in­ster head coach Leo Cullen and cap­tain Isa Nacewa, right, dur­ing their home

Dan Leavy, left, Jack McGrath, cen­tre, and Jack Co­nan of Le­in­ster cel­e­brate at the fi­nal whis­tle.

ecom­ing at En­er­gia Park in Dublin.

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