Two weeks after landing their latest All-Ireland titles, Dublin’s victorious footballers finally made it back for their official homecoming. The Dubs hadn’t very far to go, but they went the long way around.
The very notion of a “homecoming” for two teams mainly playing out of GAA headquarters stuck in the craw of the Anyone But Dublin brigade, still bellyaching about the capital’s recent dominance in Gaelic football at senior level. But pride in place and the county jersey is not the sole preserve of citizens from outside The Pale Blue.
At least on Sunday in Merrion Square, the throngs of happy Dubliners crowding the streets to pay homage to their heroes – their footballing men and women – didn’t have to shrug off disparaging remarks or defend their right to enjoy an equal passion for the county they love.
Fans of all ages celebrated Dublin’s completion of the greatest achievement in GAA football – five All-Irelands in a row.
And to make it even better, it was a double celebration. The women’s team – aka the Jackies – carried off their third title on the trot on the same weekend.
"Are you ready to partaay?" MC Marty Morrissey asked the crowd, as only he can.
A fortnight on from these historic victories, supporters on three streets to the right, left and centre of the platform were a little slow to get going. There is only so much excitement and partaaying a city can manage.
The delay between the finals and an eventual civic ceremony for the victorious teams took some spark from the occasion. The giddy euphoria of days immediately after a big win, when the buzz hasn’t yet died down, couldn’t be fully recaptured on Sunday.
And yet the supporters came in all their colour, eager to be there for their last hurrah of the year and to thank the men and women who gave them so much joy across the sporting summer.
“Five in a row” flags and car number plates customised on the same theme were everywhere.
Adrian Kavanagh from Portmarnock was flying a No 5 helium balloon. “I nipped into the newsagents in Grafton Street and got it on the way here,” he said, before unfurling his biblically inspired flag. “On seeing the crowds, Jesus, he went to the Hill. Matthew 5:1:12.”
The “massive Dubs fan” who attended all the championship and league matches around the country said the players deserved a fantastic homecoming.
As for the flag, “it’ll be planted in a Kerry man’s garden about 10 o’clock tonight when I get home”.
Blue, black and tan
There was musical entertainment before the teams arrived. It took veteran republican balladeer Derek Warfield and The Young Wolfe Tones to get the crowd going with his songs about Dublin football, name-checking big names from the past.
Then, rather unexpectedly, he burst into a rousing rendition of Come Out Ye Black and Tans. It went down very well.
It took nearly an hour before there was a blast of Ronnie Drew from the speakers, treating the fans to the afternoon's first version of Molly Malone.
Christopher Smith from Blessington – “but I’m a Dub, from Tallaght!” – was with his daughter Saoirse (7) and niece Sophie (11).
Both girls wore blue ribbons in their hair and pink-edition Dublin GAA tops and their faces were painted in the county colours. They couldn’t make up their minds which player they like the best. “All of the Dubs,” said Saoirse, diplomatically.
At the back of the crowd on the street leading down to Leinster House, Owen Burger (4) and his brother Patrick (5) were having a kick-about and they were pretty nifty with the ball. Their mother, Kelly, who like all the family was dressed head to toe in the Dublin kit, is originally from Philadelphia but lives in Malahide with her American husband, Rob. “His great-grandparents are from Donegal.”
Rob now coaches at their local club, St Sylvester’s. “We love the GAA. One day the boys hope they will be playing for Dublin.”
It really was an afternoon for families and heartwarming to see the wonder in the children’s faces when they glimpsed their heroes. Wonderful, too, to hear the crowd roar for the women’s team, introduced onstage before the all-conquering men made their entrance.
Those little girls on their daddy’s shoulders cheering for all they were worth knew that one day, they too could be going for glory.
Eoin Thompson and The Rising Sons sang the song of the season. "The Dri-ive for Fie-ive," as he styled it. "You'll never bate the Dubs no matthur what you do."
A young lad waved his poster. “They called us the Durty Dubs. But we cleaned up with five-in-a-row.”
Four chains of office (city and county mayors, plus deputies) arrived on the scene, which meant the main feature couldn’t be far behind.
Dublin lord mayor Paul McAuliffe milked the moment for all he was worth, what with a general election on the horizon. A number of city councillors of unidentifiable provenance also turned up, wearing their robes, which just looked silly.
Marty interviewed stars of Dublin triumphs past: Tommy Drumm, Ciaran Duff and Charlie Redmond.
“Uimhir a sé is under way,” shouted Ciaran.
“Fellas like me look up to you, ” said Marty to the Dublin greats, a line he repeated several times when commenting on the height of the current crop.
“Jaysus, Marty, that wouldn’t be hard, wha?” shouted someone in the crowd when he said it the first time.
Six in a row
There were clips of big moments from great games on the big screens, but a number of attempts to play Molly Malone over the PA cut out. No bother. The crowd sang it instead.
The teams – and trophies – were ecstatically welcomed. Players were interviewed (perhaps for too long). They are far better footballers than raconteurs.
Veteran player Bernard Brogan, who is nearing the end of his playing days, talked about "pushing on and trying to add value to the lads". A behind-the-scenes role can't be far away.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin, revered by the crowd, said more in his time onstage than he probably said during the whole of the season. "For the kids – practice a little and often," he told them.
Meanwhile, rock-solid captain Stephen Cluxton, in a hotly contested field, got the best welcome.
The lads left their swooning fans to the strains of The Boys Are Back in Town with dream talk of six in a row in the air.
Just to annoy everyone else, for the gas of it.