Ulster fans party like it's 1999!
Gareth McKeown (left) with brother Peter (right) and Eoin Conlon.
The dream continues and the Ulster rugby team stands one game away from immortality. The official attendance at Saturday's match was 45,147, but it felt more like double that, as a sea of white and red engulfed the Aviva stadium, turning Dublin into a home away from home.
A mass exodus left Northern Ireland on Saturday, with two per cent of the population making their own unique effort to 'Stand up for the Ulster Men'. Undoubtedly it was this passionate support that made the difference on the day. Although many of the 40,000 plus had jumped on the bandwagon, these 'glory hunters' helped to ensure a momentous day in the history of Ulster rugby.
The match may not have been a classic, but in the end the history books will not tell the story of how Ulster reached the Heineken Cup Final, but rather state that they are present in the final for the first time since 1999.
Unlike the quarter-finals, on this occasion Ulster were overwhelming favourites to progress and were noticeably burdened with the weight of expectation. The match was like a heavyweight boxing match and Ruan Pienaar delivered the knock-out blows which sent Edinburgh to the canvas and crashing out of the Heineken Cup.
The South African justified his big wage with another truly world-class performance, with his flawless goal-kicking and stunning game management ensuring it would be Brian McLaughlin and Ulster's day.
For Ulster Coach McLaughlin it was further vindication that the decision to remove him as Head Coach at the close of the season is the wrong one. McLaughlin's influence has been immense and the players' desire to produce for their departing coach was evident in the rush to share the moment with him afterwards. Would the players have produced such a display of will and desire under the tutelage of Mark Anscombe? I must admit, I have my doubts!
Fermanagh had split loyalties on the day as the Senior GAA side were playing in the Division Four League Final just across the city at Croke Park. Many Gaelic fans would have loved to have been able to have taken in both events, but with throw in at Croke Park 5.00pm and kick-off at the Aviva at 5.45pm, unless you had perfected that time machine at home, you were missing out on a massive sporting occasion.
Perhaps with more prudent planning, some more Fermanagh fans could have enjoyed the special atmosphere of the Heineken Cup.
There is still time though, as the Ulster bandwagon is still rolling and it's next stop is Twickenham and an all-Irish final with provincial rivals Leinster. Whether or not they win or lose, come May 19 myself and thousands more are going to party like it's 1999!
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 03 May 12