A celebration for the Ireland Rugby Team, the 2014 Six Nations Champions, was held at Stormont on Wednesday evening.
Hosted by Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, the event brought together players and staff from the team. Among the household names present were captain Paul O’Connell, Ireland’s most capped player Brian O’Driscoll, local heroes Rory Best and Andrew Trimble and coach Joe Schmidt.
The Minister said: “It gives me great pleasure to host events such as this, which bring global stars to Stormont and recognise the sporting talent in our midst.
“The game of rugby in Ulster, and across Ireland, is played to a very high standard and it is wonderful to have the Six Nations champions here this evening. Each of these players are deserving of the highest praise and are an inspiration to us all.
“Recognising excellence in this way acts as a motivation to our young people to take up their preferred sport and to strive to be like their sporting heroes. In this context it is rugby, and the accomplishments of this winning team, that will inspire many to become involved in the game. For those already playing, it will spur them to greater levels as they seek to match and perhaps eclipse the achievements of those here tonight.”
The Minister said there has been significant investment in the infrastructure of rugby in the north.
“Fewer than five miles from where I stand this evening, DCAL has invested £14.7million in the redevelopment of the Ravenhill Stadium, which brings the ground up to a maximum capacity of 18,000. This fantastic facility was officially opened earlier this month, and was a hit with players and fans alike.”
The Minister added Ravenhill could be hosting even bigger events in the future.
She said: “I have already indicated my support for the proposed bid by the Irish Rugby Football Union to host the Rugby World Cup in Ireland in 2023. It would be wonderful to see the competition taking place here and perhaps a home Championship win for Ireland.
“Finally, I wish the Ireland team every success in the future, particularly for their upcoming test series against Argentina, which takes place next month.”