Hurling final at Croke Park: ‘To be in there was just so special’

Sporting bubble of Croke Park provides welcome escapism from enduring pandemic

Overjoyed Limerick captain Declan Hannon lifts the MacCarthy cup aloft. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Ballybrown woman Marion Kiely was moved to tears inside Croke Park stadium as she and 40,000 others watched Limerick win the All-Ireland hurling final.

“The whole thing was unbelievable. To be in there was just so special,” she said.

She had travelled to Dublin for the 2018 final with friends Shane and Suzanne Healy when tickets were “like hens’ teeth”, she recalled. The same trio was overjoyed to secure seats this year when the 82,000-seater stadium was operating at half-capacity.

For Shane Healy, watching the final inside the pressurised bubble of Croke Park provided much-welcomed “escapism” from the enduring pandemic.


“It was the hurling that kept us going throughout Covid,” he said. Kiely agreed: “We have locked ourselves away for 18 months. Now we are vaccinated and doing our best, and to be fair the crowds were very respectful.”

A Limerick GAA supporter for more than four decades, Ger Lonergan felt “privileged” to be back watching his team from a pitch-side seat. The matches carried him through winter’s pandemic restrictions, but being among other spectators at a live game is “what the sport is all about”, he said.

“Sure isn’t it the fans that make it, really? It’s the banter and the two pints or the four pints before,” he said.

The event “lifted a weight off people’s shoulders”, he said. “It is great for people to be able to do small things like this. Small things nowadays are very very big things. It was a super day.”

Double act

Ahead of the game the county rivalry between mother Sinéad Uí Mhurchú and daughter Niamh Ní Mhurchú was clear for all to see on the day of the All-Ireland hurling final. The green sequins and shamrock top hat sported by Uí Mhurchú clashed brilliantly with the rebellious red and white worn by 10-year-old Niamh.

The O’Dwyer family turn out to support the winning team – rampant Limerick. Photograph: Ellen O’Riordan

The young Cork fan had never witnessed in person her county playing in an All-Ireland hurling final. The day out in Dublin and the excitement all around was “amazing” following a long period of strict Covid-19 restrictions, said Niamh.

Watching matches on the small screen was “not at all” the same as being close to the action in Croke Park, she declared. “This is my first All-Ireland. The atmosphere here is so crazy because there are Cork fans and Limerick fans everywhere,” she added.

“At Niamh’s age I cried a lot over Limerick losing All-Irelands,” said Sinéad Uí Mhurchú. When Limerick did finally win, it was “like a dream come true”, she recalled.

“We are a GAA household . . . Even though I am a passionate Limerick supporter, I believe in pride in your own place so Niamh has to shout for Cork,” she said.

Sinéad Uí Mhurchú and daughter Niamh on a day out to remember – especially for the Cork supporter. Photograph: Ellen O’Riordan

That was never in any doubt, Niamh interjected: “I would shout for Cork no matter what.”

In the run-up to the game, the crowds drinking on Summerhill Parade spilled on to the road, forcing a single lane of traffic each way. Rebel chants ignited suddenly and faded, only for another group in red to take up the chanting mantle moments later. “Fancy meeting you here,” a Limerick supporter could be overheard saying as she bumped elbows with another.

Watching the antics from atop his father’s shoulders was seven-year-old Limerick fan Conall O’Dwyer. His father Francis was excited for the boy to see a final for the first time “in the flesh”.

Last year’s victory was “a bit of an anti-climax”, considering they had to watch it from their living room, said his mother Deirdre.

“Being here brings us back to normality. The All-Ireland hurling final is a very special day. It makes a big difference to sitting at home on the couch,” she added.

Older son Fionn (10) was filled with confidence ahead of play: “I feel very good because Limerick are going to win,” he said. Later the family exited the stadium with their fists in the air. “A great win,” Francis called out, as Fionn allowed himself a triumphant smile.

Cork fans

Cork fans waited longer than the pandemic to cheer on their boys at a hurling final. Attending key fixtures has long been a tradition for father and daughter JJ and Gráine Lynch.

father and daughter JJ Lynch and Gráine Lynch in full battle garb ahead of the big match. Photograph: Ellen O’Riordan

“We were at every one . . . 1984 was the first my Dad brought me to,” said Ms Lynch. “I have been going a bit longer,” her father noted.

Although he warned early in the afternoon that “there might be tears” if the game did not go their way, it was “great to have some normality”, said Mr Lynch. Held behind closed doors, last year’s championship “was not the same”, said Ms Lynch.

“Cork wasn’t in it, but watching from home did not compare to when there were supporters there,” she said.

“With Covid we never thought we would actually physically be getting to an All-Ireland final. It feels like Covid is at the back of our minds. It’s a tribute to the GAA that they were able to facilitate supporters going. Hopefully it can continue,” she added.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times