IT was Monday, it was early afternoon, it was raining, but there were no blues in Kilkenny yesterday, just black and amber, a city en fete as the 2011 All-Ireland senior hurling champions were welcomed home.
The team wasn’t due in the railway station until 6pm but from early afternoon the buzz had been building, people taking their places hours beforehand at the barricades in front of the stage in Dunne’s car park, where the official reception would take place.
The music was provided (appropriately!) by The Kilkennys, a lively and talented local folk/rock group, and as the open-top bus was spied crossing St John’s Bridge, down from one corner of the car park, they broke into an appropriate song of welcome, Luka Bloom’s ‘You couldn’t have come at a better time!’
By the time the open-top bus finally appeared the car park had become a heaving mass of humanity, notable especially for the number of kids and young people. For openers we had a few speeches from the local politicians, the hoarse Paul Cuddihy — chairman of the county council and a man whose family has been associated as team doctors with Kilkenny for generations — barely heard.
Finally, however, the moment the crowd had been waiting for, county board secretary Ned Quinn introducing the team one by one. The first intro came as a couple, team captain Brian Hogan and Liam MacCarthy hailed with a mighty roar. Of course it had become home from home really for Liam, seven of the last 11 years spent in the Marble City, but the famous trophy had been absent for a year, a temporary sojourn across the border in Tipperary. !
Every player was cheered to the echo, the redoubtable Tommy Walsh emerging wearing Liam MacCarthy like an oversized helmet. The biggest cheer though was for Brian Cody.
Formalities were kept to a minimum, just two speeches planned, the first by Brian Hogan, the second by Cody. Hogan paid tribute to two who were sidelined on Sunday, the injured John Tennyson and PJ Delaney. He then paid tribute to those gathered in front of him; "To ye, the supporters, standing out here in the rain — ye came in yere thousands last year even though we lost, and that helped us hugely. It’s great to see ye out again this evening in such numbers. Thanks a million, and thank God we have Liam MacCarthy back with us."
Then it was Cody’s turn, and again everything was going to script. "We need to savour these times," he said; "But we also need to ensure that the good times continue, that the young people out there see these men up here as their heroes, as their role models. We want them going around with their hurleys and practising, and wanting to be the next Tommy Walsh, the next John Mulhall."
At which point the chanting began behind him, the players looking for one of their own to step forward — the aforementioned Mulhall. Cody handed him the mike, Mulhall started into a song he had written, ‘Come on the Supercats’; ‘Cody is the mastermind’, began one verse, ‘Dempsey up and down the line; Fogarty from Comer!’, a reference to the management team of Cody, Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty. Then came the last verse, and it will surely have been noted across the county border, will just as surely be stored for use next year — ‘Now we’ve taken back our throne; Tipperary póg mo thóin; Liam MacCarthy’s coming f***ing home!’. Ouch. Entertaining it was, but equally certainly this would not have been on the Cody script!
These are indeed a special group of players, however, a fact noted by Eddie Keher, as fine a player but also as fine an ambassador as Kilkenny hurling has ever had. "Apart from what they’ve achieved, I think their behaviour off the field is also to be admired. I’ve gone on trips with these guys, they are modest, well behaved, tremendous representatives. Their reaction to the supporters, to the young supporters especially is fantastic — they sign a million jerseys, hurleys, balls. These guys are superstars — in any other code they wouldn’t be within a mile of the ordinary supporters. I’m proud of them in so many ways. On the field yesterday they showed true grit, great determination — look at the amount of work Henry put in, apart altogether from his brilliant points. He did everything you could ask of a player. It was such a complete performance. And we probably saw two of the best team goals we ever saw in an All-Ireland final. You had everything, Tommy, Brian and JJ stopping everything coming through, Jackie, Noel and the young lad, Paul Murphy doing so well behind them. Very sweet."