Chorus of Tipperary emotion greets All-Ireland stars
Every demographic represented as the county welcomes its 28th All-Ireland title home
A young fan at Semple Stadium for the homecoming of All-Ireland hurling champions Tipperary. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Noel McGrath celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy cup at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
There shouldn’t be anything particularly magical about Tipperary’s 28th All-Ireland title. In the context of recent years, the story almost seems bland. Limerick spent decades in the wilderness, only to emerge from nowhere as an unstoppable force. Galway spent years hollering at destiny’s door before finally crashing through it in an emotional triumph. Tipp had the return of Liam Sheedy, but they last lifted Liam McCarthy in 2016. And yet, as Tipperary county chairperson John Devane put it at Monday night’s homecoming: “It just gets better and better and better, every time.”
No official attendance figures were released, but the general consensus amongst stewards was that the crowd was 'massive'
It’s no mystery as to why this All-Ireland feels like one of the county’s greatest achievements. The reason has nothing to do with beating Kilkenny, or being written off after the Munster final. It simply lies in the players, and the management team around them, all of whom are adored for their qualities as people, as well as hurlers. To get a flavour of just how much this bunch mean to the Tipperary public, all one has to do is spend five minutes listening to the Two Johnnies singing their praises, as the music and comedy duo did on Monday night in Thurles. It’s hard to think of anyone who could be more suited to this type of occasion, and the lads absolutely nailed it, taking the party to a whole new level with some of their trademark classics like Junior B All Star and Could Have Been County.
No official attendance figures were released, but the general consensus amongst stewards was that the crowd was “massive”. Every demographic was represented, from older men who had seen (and played in) that legendary team of the late ’50s and early ’60s, to the boys and girls shooting around the pitch and firing sliotars in every direction. Parents Stephen and Geraldine had made their way in from the parish of Moycarkey-Borris, led by their four kids Kieran, Aoife, Phillip and six-month old Lucy, who was wrecked from all the excitement and decided to nod off for a while.
“It was mighty, just brilliant, and for the kids especially – it keeps them going, this kind of event, it’s a real memory for them.”
Gareth and Arianne Ryan have brought their young family to Thurles, and it’s safe to say that the three kids – Ted, Isabel and Maria-Elena – are mesmerised by the spectacle, in the most positive sense. At just six weeks old, Maria-Elena could probably stake a claim as one of the youngest supporters in attendance. She may not remember it in the years to come, but she’ll always have been there. Arianne hails from the Philippines, but her hurling loyalties lie with Tipperary and Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams, as her husband explains.
“We’re from Dundrum, Knockavilla Kickhams is our club, so Ger Browne is our main man. He came on yesterday, scored a cracking point from midfield, so we’re all delighted for him and the rest of the lads.”
The stars finally make their entrance at 8pm on the button, greeted by a chorus of Tipperary emotion. It’s spine-tingling stuff to witness as a fan, so one can only imagine the emotional rollercoaster Séamus Callanan and Liam Sheedy were riding when they walked out with the cup in hand. Both could have been forgiven for thinking that the scene in front of them was a mirage, but the noise ought to have convinced them of reality. Even Tipp’s most scathing critics would have struggled not to smile when watching Sheedy and his troops celebrate. But the most brilliant sight of all was Noel McGrath – not so much as a crinkle to be seen on his white shirt, calm and composed as ever. He celebrates like he plays – with gravitas and grace.