VIDEO: Sexton's storied career ends with 'gutting' defeat
REACTION: Johnny Sexton’s son Luca accompanied his father round a pitch for the final time after his stellar career ended in bitter disappointment with a 24-28 loss to New Zealand in the World Cup quarterfinal.
He message: “You’re still the best dad.”
It was a tearful but dignified Sexton who appeared at the post-match press conference after his dreams of a fairytale ending were dashed by the All Blacks in an absorbing contest on Saturday.
After leading them to 17 successive Test wins, including a historic series win in New Zealand, many had thought this Irish side would finally break the World Cup glass ceiling and reach the semifinals.
However, like so many great Irish players before him, Sexton fell short.
The 38-year-old described the defeat as “gutting” because of the small margins involved – including when Ronan Kelleher was held up over the line with minutes remaining.
The flyhalf said the end result may not have been what he wanted but overall this final campaign had left him with happy memories.
“How can you be prouder to be Irish when you see what’s happened over the last six weeks really?” said Sexton, of the tens of thousands of Irish fans who had turned the Stade de France into a sea of green for two consecutive weekends.
“We get behind the team like no other. It’s incredible and it’s not wasted on us, and that’s why it’s so hard to take really, that we didn’t give them another couple of weekends.
“They [the squad] are an incredible bunch led by the man beside me,” he said, gesturing to head coach Andy Farrell.
“It’s the best group I have ever been apart of. Bar none.
“The last couple of years have definitely been, in a green jersey anyway, the most enjoyable of my career,” said Sexton. “Definitely.
“The group, the way ‘Faz’ leads us with the other coaches, everyone runs into camp and never wants to leave.
“It’s an incredible place to be and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
Sexton retires with a record that many players would die for.
He hangs up his boots as Ireland’s record points scorer, the Six Nations overall points record holder, a pivotal figure in two Six Nations Grand Slams and the 2018 World Player of the Year.
“I’m just grateful as well,” he said.
“You can’t be 38 and sit here giving out too much.
“I’ve had lots of ups and downs in my career, lots of injuries and I will reflect more in the coming weeks on my career.”
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‘Shouting at them’
For Farrell, Sexton is simply the best player to have donned the green jersey.
“I just said to the group in the changing room the reason they’re going to keep on learning is because of this guy sat beside me here,” said Farrell.
“The impact that he’s had on the rest of the team over the last four years has been amazing, and the way that he’s conducted himself as a leader and as a player and the way that he’s shown the love playing for Ireland will be remembered and connected to this group for many years to come.”
Sexton too received a glowing tribute from All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
“He’s been outstanding for Ireland for a very long time, as long as I’ve been playing against Ireland,” said Cane.
“The fact he has been able to play at the top for so long is an absolute testament to that.
“Congratulations Johnny on an outstanding career.”
Sexton has always been a hard taskmaster – not least on himself – but his drive has yielded results.
He believes he leaves behind a squad that will flourish, although some are on the wrong side of 30 and his fellow veteran and “one of my best friends” Keith Earls is also to retire.
“These guys will go on and achieve great things and I’ll be sitting in the stand having a pint like you lads,” said Sexton.
Farrell, the funny man of the double act over the past four years, had the last say.
“[He’ll be] shouting at them,” he chipped in.
Sexton left to a rare round of applause from the press – and raised his thumb in an Irish jersey for the last time.