"They were heroes for me and the guys I watched when I was in school" 1 week ago

"They were heroes for me and the guys I watched when I was in school"

The Leinster duo may yet have a say on how the final trophy of the season gets decided.

Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden may not have felt lucky, missing out on a playing role in the Guinness PRO14 final, but they were among a handful of fortunate Leinster players to actually get along to the Aviva Stadium.

While the likes of Scott Penny, Max Deegan, Sean Cronin, Dave Kearney and Ryan Baird had to watch the final, against Ulster, from home, Kearney and McFadden had a pitch-side view as their teammates finished their all-conquering league season in style.

Leinster recovered from going 5-0 behind after four minutes to not concede again for the rest of the game, while racking up the scores at the other end. They defeated Ulster 27-5 to clinch their third successive league title and record their 17th straight win of the competition in the process.

The league season was halted after 13 rounds and there were serious discussions held, back in April and May, about wrapping up the league prematurely. The thinking, back then and in the midst of a worrying amount of Covid-19 cases, was that Leinster would just be crowned champions without their day in the sun. Few would have complained.

Instead, though, the Leinster players got to round out their invincible league season under the floodlights of the Aviva Stadium in mid September, just over a month before the 2020/21 campaign kicks off.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen admits there was a moment when he thought Leinster would be denied the celebrations they so fully had, and enjoyed, tonight.

"There really were," he says. "A lot of credit has to go to Guinness and the tournament organisers for getting this condensed schedule out, with two pretty full-on derby games that lead into a semi-final and final. It's a nice, clean end to the season so a huge amount of credit has to go to the tournament organisers.

"I thought they were very pro-active, right from the off, to make these dates. And there was a realistic timeline as well, to allow the teams enough time to get back after whatever the lockdown period would be. After that 10, 12 week period, whatever it was going to be; 16 weeks. There would still be enough time to come back, return to contact... As you say, it might have been easier to say, 'Right, we'll cut our losses here and move on to the following season'. But they've been excellent in that regard."

Leinster

There was a lovely moment, after the game, when Leinster captain [on the day] Garry Ringrose and squad captain Johnny Sexton handed out the medals to their victorious teammates. Then, both stood back and allowed Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney - decked out in their club tracksuits - step forward to lift the trophy.

Following the game, Leinster forward Josh van der Flier spoke about the gesture and the two backs that will leave their home province at the end of this season.

"For me personally, they are the heroes I would have watched in school. Ferg is one of the best team-mates you could ever come across, always gives 100 per cent. Rob, obviously his success speaks for itself. He has been around a long time and has consistently performed for Leinster and Ireland.

"It's going to be tough saying goodbye to them but it was nice to be able to get them here today given the circumstances.

"And for them to lift the trophy was very appropriate for all they have given the team and to do this present squad as well. They are a tremendous part of the club and they will be for the rest of history. They are that special to the club."

McFadden is hoping to get back playing before the season wraps after he picked up a calf strain back in July. Kearney was fit and available but missed out on the match-day 23.

Leinster face Saracens next Saturday, back at the Aviva Stadium, and could yet have three games left in this elongated 2019/20 season. The Leinster veterans could play roles yet in ensuring Leinster end up lifting another piece of silverware.