Jubilation in Kilkenny as MacCarthy returns after 'holiday'


ALL-IRELAND HOMECOMINGS:OLD HANDS they may be at this triumphant homecoming lark, but Kilkenny supporters nonetheless turned out in their thousands last night to welcome their hurling heroes from another glorious weekend in Dublin.

The well-worn route from MacDonagh Station through the streets of the old city were once again lined with appreciative throngs, estimated at about 20,000 people, from all over the county as an open-topped bus brought the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the Market Yard after what Kilkenny will regard as a year-long hiatus.

Or as the cheerleaders (cheerleaders! wouldn’t have happened in Lory Meagher’s day) put it: “Liam was away on a hol-i-day, now he’s back and he’s here to stay.”

Since Brian Cody became manager, the journey, trophy and all, has now been made eight times — including in five of the last six Septembers — but the appetite for success of players, backroom team and fans alike is showing no signs of being sated.

“Ah sure look it,” the boss said last night when asked what’s next for this team, “the months will pass by and next year will come along for the players and they’ll just get on and play hurling, because that’s what they do. The feeling is just majestic now.”

As they greeted family, friends and neighbours on arrival in the city, by train as per tradition, several players alluded to the added motivation given to them this year by last season’s loss to Tipperary. Midfielder and goalscorer Michael Fennelly said: “After last year’s defeat, when we lost by [eight] points, the question was there — are we good enough — and thankfully, you know, we answered those questions on Sunday.”

The link between the team and the supporters was also mentioned a few times as the cheering continued. “We do speak about the support we get in the dressingroom beforehand,” star forward “King” Henry Shefflin said. “It’s good that we’re able to do this tonight for them.”

Eventually they boarded the open-top bus and, when they finally reached the Market Yard, Mayor of Kilkenny David Fitzgerald led a civic reception and all of the players and management — described by the Mayor as “the stripey men” and “the cats who got the cream” — were introduced on stage.

To loud applause and hoarse cheers they were named out, with the loudest cheers reserved for the two Brians — Cody and Hogan. “Thank God we have the Liam MacCarthy back in Kilkenny,” Brian Hogan said at the end of the formalities.

Meanwhile, around the same time as the Liam MacCarthy Cup was arriving at the station in Kilkenny, a despondent Tipperary team alighted in Thurles, trophy-less unlike last year when they were the ones to put a stop to the cats’ “drive for five”. The scenes around the town were starkly different to those of last year, when up to 40,000 turned up to see Eoin Kelly bring the spoils back to the birthplace of the GAA for the first time in a decade.

Last night, the mood was despondent; the crowd smaller and the only note of encouragement was to be found in the many vows from players and management alike to return in 2012 for another crack at the cats.

Over the border, less than 50km away in the Marble City, those cats were grinning from ear to ear and there’ll be no let-up for their hurling rivals. Dismantling the barriers that kept the players and crowds safe, one steward said to another with a laugh: “See you next year.”