Kings of September: Thousands greet Kilkenny homecoming
KINGS OF September they may be but their arrival home on the first evening of October was greeted with just as much enthusiasm by Kilkenny’s adoring public as if it was their first taste of glory.
The players and management love their hurling, and their supporters love them in turn, as was borne out last night by the thousands who greeted them home after Sunday’s disposal of Galway.
It’s become a familiar routine by now.
If it’s the Monday after an All-Ireland, it must be homecoming night in Kilkenny. Apart from drawn All-Irelands, of course, and in the Age of Cody it’s a routine that’s been observed 12 seasons out of 14, and been accompanied by the coveted Liam MacCarthy Cup on nine of those journeys.
The only differences last night to almost every other year was that this time it was October by the time the heroes were home, and this year the homecoming took on a new route, by bus from Kilkenny Castle to local GAA headquarters Nowlan Park.
Well over 20,000 are believed to have lined the city’s streets and turned up at the stadium to welcome their heroes.
The returning heroes arrived at Kilkenny Castle just after 5.30pm and stepped off the coach that transported them that far from Dublin – registration 12-KK-1 of course – and on to an open-top bus for the journey through the city streets.
As businesses emptied and upper-floor windows were commandeered, team captain Eoin Larkin held the trophy aloft as the bus made its way down The Parade before turning on to Rose Inn Street, crossing the bridge for John Street and then heading towards Nowlan Park.
Manager Brian Cody often talks of the players’ – and his own – love for hurling and how the game commands an irreplaceable part of their lives and, judging by the broad grin he wore for much of last night, there’s no sign of that love fading and no sign of the satisfaction felt every time they bring Liam MacCarthy “home” waning.
“It’s a privilege every single time we get the opportunity and thanks be to God we have it this year,” he said.
As county board secretary Ned Quinn reminded the crowd, when Brian Cody took over back in late 1998, Kilkenny “hadn’t won the All-Ireland in five years” – a famine in Kilkenny terms.
As the team was introduced on-stage at Nowlan Park by Ned Quinn, huge cheers greeted man of the match Walter Walsh, “King” Henry Shefflin who on Sunday claimed his ninth winner’s medal, skipper Larkin, Cody himself, and the rest of the team.
As Colin Fennelly put it: “It’s a huge honour to be coming home to your own city, back to get the welcome we’ve always got, when you’re winning again.
“To bring the Liam MacCarthy to Kilkenny is always a huge honour.” Other counties take note: He said “always”.