Limerick hurlers treated to ecstatic homecoming from 80,000 fans
All-Ireland champions deliver emotional rendition of ‘Limerick, You’re a Lady’ at Gaelic Grounds
The Limerick hurling team make their way on an open top bus over Sarsfield Bridge and the river Shannon on route to the homecoming celebrations at the Gaelic Grounds on Monday evening. Photograph by Eamon Ward
Limerick’s Shane Dowling and Diarmuid Byrnes lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the crowd. Photograph: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
The 45-year wait for the return of the Liam MacCarthy Cup to Limerick ended on Monday night as tens of thousands of fans gathered to welcome the All-Ireland senior hurling champions home.
Musician Niall Breslin (aka Bressie) and his band The Blizzards set the tone at the Gaelic Grounds, the home of Limerick GAA, for the party as an estimated 80,000 turned out on the streets and in the stadium for the homecoming.
The players received a rapturous welcome as their train pulled into Colbert Station, where thousands of fans had lined up at outside the entrance gates.
Eight-year-old Darragh Connolly became the star of the show as players lifted him on to their shoulders along with the warmly welcomed silverware.
The All-Ireland champions joined in an emotional rendition of the county’s hurling anthem Limerick, You’re A Lady.
“I felt so excited when they lifted me up. I just can’t believe it, it’s just been a magnificent day,” said Darragh, who was beaming after meeting the team.
Gripping the trophy tightly in his hands, Darragh continued: “The tears were coming out of my eyes, lifting Liam... I am so happy”.
It wasn’t just the juniors who were in tears. James Kirby (73) and his wife Mary both welled up as the saw the trophy, secured after a 3-16 to 2-18 win over Galway at Croke Park, arrive.
“Our son Anthony was aged four in 1973 when we won the All-Ireland final, and yesterday he drove us up to the match,” said James. “It was great for us all to be there together.”
There were also waterworks from 50-year-old Kieran Harrison (50), who travelled back from Dublin on the team train, and joined the players in a rendition of Seán South of Garryowen, the Limerick’s traditional battle cry.
“When the whistle blew in Croke Park I felt twenty years younger,” he said. “My son Mark, who is 15, was crying; I was crying; everyone around us was crying...I will never feel as emotional again in my entire life.”
The team held the Liam MacCarthy aloft as the open-top bus carrying them weaved through the city’s streets towards the sea of green and white jerseys, flags and faces that had gathered at the Gaelic Grounds.
RTÉ commentator Marty Morrissey did not need much help getting the crowd going, but he drew one of the biggest roars of the night when he said: “The biggest party is in Limerick tonight … And you know Marty loves to party”.
Rachel and Mark Cosgrave brought along their children Darragh (five) and Cadhla (nine) to see the reaction to the 45-year famine ending.
Dressed in their greens and white jerseys, Rachel said it was “fantastic to be part of such a great day” while Darragh pledged: “I’m going to play for Limerick.”
The match-like atmosphere along the route from the city to the Gaelic Grounds included the familiar call of street vendors selling “hats, scarfs, and headbands”.
Having seen her team lose out on claiming back-to-back All-Irelands, Galway vendor Linda Wall joked that she was “happy to take the Limerick people’s money” seeing as they had taken away Galway’s title.
“Limerick deserved the win…after all they waited 45 years,” she added.
Richie Bennis, from the Patrickswell club - who helped guide Limerick to All-Ireland glory in 1973, appeared visibly relieved that “the mantle has now been passed” to an new group of players.
“It’s unreal. I thought last year I’d never live to see Limerick win another All-Ireland. Now I hope to see them win a few more,” he added.