Donnacha Ryan shared his post-match beers with all the right people
It is getting close to 11pm in Bilbao and it looked as though the last of the Racing and Leinster players had filtered through the mixed zone. Then, asmost reporters had returned to work stations to file stories, a battered and bruised Tipperary man emerged.
Donnacha Ryan was only a couple of hours after playing manfully in his second ever European Cup final [the first was with Munster in 2008] and he looked as though he has been through a war. He had, of course, and he represented his new club so well but Racing could not get over the line against a Leinster team that were clutch when they needed to be.
Spotting my weary Irish head a mile off, he slung his kit-bag off his right shoulder.
"Howaya? Yep, I'll chat. Just don't be too long."
Ryan's left arm was in a sling. He had badly injured it in an awkward fall during a lineout after around 15 minutes. He screamed in pain and lay on the pitch for a while. It would have finished most men but Ryan is made of Tipperary teak and stubbornness. No way he was going off.
"There's not many times you get to play in a final, you know? Get up and get on with it."
Ryan was there until the bitter end, helping his team get into drop goal position before Remi Tales pulled his kick wide. 81 minutes of sheer endeavour and a game-plan that strangled Leinster and Racing still lost.
Typical of Ryan, though, he refused to blame teammates or match officials and paid all credit to the victors. Rather than focus on referee Wayne Barnes ad his assistants, the second row said it was Racing that were guilty of giving away the "silly penalties" in the final stages that Isa Nacewa finished off.
Asked if he had a chance to get in and see the Leinster lads for a post-match beer, Ryan said he had and went a step further. He told SportsJOE:
"I had a beer with the refs and I had a beer with Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton there as well. I had a good chat with Leo too.
"It's hard to catch up with everybody but it's hard. I had a good chat with a few but, sure look, I wouldn't want to wreck their buzz anyway!"
And that was that. Handshakes and a dip to retrieve his bag. He had stopped for five minutes to re-live some painful, all too recent memories but had kept his perspective, humility and his sense of hunour.
He was not done yet. Before he got out of the mixed zone, a few Irish print journalists asked for a minute.
"Howaya lads? Yep, I'll chat. Can we make it quick though?"
And there he stayed, arm slung up, for another five minutes before awkwardly picking up his bag and heading off into the Bilbao night.
*The full Donnacha Ryan interview with feature on THE HARD YARDS on Monday, May 14