NO one will be telling Leinster in years to come that this wasn't one of the great Heineken Cup finals. Games as consuming and as important as these are simply there to be won, and just as the Blues had comprehensively out-Munstered Munster a few weeks ago, yesterday they out-Leicestered Leicester Self-belief, will, sheer determination and a superhuman performance by Rocky Elsom drove them over the line to cap an historic season which has seen all of Europe's major trophies end up in the Ireland trophy cabinet.
This ferocious contest was in the balance until Jonathan Sexton's very last joyous punt into the stands. It swung this way and that, more nerve-wracking than dramatic, before Leinster finally got a grip in the last quarter. And after so much heartache, and so much opprobrium, once they had a hand on the precious silverware they refused to let go.
In Felipe Contepomi's absence, it was the impressive Sexton who landed the all-important penalty 10 minutes from the end. And if the kick struggled to sneak in at the right-hand upright – perhaps an appropriate symbol of Leinster's seasons of toil in this competition – who cared?
As Leicester ran out of fuel at the end of an exhausting few months, it was the winners who finished much the stronger. Those closing minutes must have felt like a lifetime, but even if the players mightn't have been aware of it, Leinster were in control. And unlike at Croke Park where Elsom faded somewhat into the background after a scorching first-half, this time he was still firing on all cylinders as a visibly jaded Leicester fought desperately for the score that would bring them level.
While this triumph was undoubtedly overdue, it was still worth the wait for several of the province's leading players such as Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan, Bernard Jackman and Malcolm O'Kelly who might not get another shot at European glory. The prospect of going back to the drawing board yet again might have been too much to bear.
The first quarter was a tale of two drop-goals. The opening three-pointer was a shot to nothing by O'Driscoll after Leicester had already been penalised, but the second was a thing of power and beauty. Sexton gathered a loose defensive kick just inside his own half, steadied himself, and fired the ball high and handsome over the bar.
That was in the 18th minute by which stage Leinster were deservedly 6-3 in front. After testing the Leicester midfield with no reward, they began to mix their game up as Sexton cleverly put the ball in behind Alesana Tuilagi. The out-half, who continued his good form from the semi-final added a penalty, following another offside decision, and after 25 minutes, the lead was 9-3.
It was attritional at the breakdown and the tackles came thumping in with O'Driscoll scythed down at one point by a perfect Ben Woods hit, but with Elsom and Cian Healy to the fore Leinster were looking pretty comfortable until Stan Wright was sin-binned just past the half-hour mark for taking out Sam Vesty. Julien Dupuy exacted retribution with his second penalty.
Boosted by their numerical advantage, on came Leicester with Danny Hipkiss giving the Leinster defenders a major headache. Yet another half-break by the quick-footed centre paved the way for Vesty to offload to Woods deep in the 22, and the openside drove through Isa Nacewa and D'Arcy for the try. Dupuy converted and as Owens whistled for the interval, the Tigers led for the first time.
After going behind you felt that Leinster had to score first after the changeover, but instead they began the second half with a cardinal error. Chris Whitaker was outside his 22 when he passed back to Sexton and Fitzgerald's clearance was brought back 35 metres. From the line-out, Leicester rumbled forward and when Healy piled into the ruck from the side, Dupuy was on target once more to make it 16-9.
If Leinster had slipped further back at this stage, the situation would have been terminal, but they kept their composure and Jamie Heaslip crashed over for Sexton to level matters with the simple conversion. The out-half fluffed a penalty attempt from long range as once more the game swung towards the Tigers, however, as Richard Cockerill emptied his bench, there was no added pep in his team's step.
The problem for Leinster was they couldn't get their hands on the ball for any length of time, and when they did, they coughed it up too easily in their own half. But as fatigue set in the final 10 minutes, Leicester were pinged for going off their feet and even though Sexton's angled penalty from 30 metres wasn't his best strike, it somehow curled in.
And somehow, Leo Cullen and his team hung on to at last experience the sweet taste of European success. Irish by birth, Leinster by the grace of BOD.
6 mins O'Driscoll dr gl, 3-0 9 mins Dupuy pen, 3-3 18 mins Sexton dr gl, 6-3 24 mins Sexton pen, 9-3 34 mins Dupuy pen, 9-6 39 mins Woods try, Dupuy con, 9-13 43 mins Dupuy pen, 9-16 48 mins Heaslip try, Sexton con, 16-16 70 mins Sexton pen, 19-16