By Cóilín Duffy
Tens of thousands of supporters turned out to welcome home the Kerry senior and minor Football teams following their All-Ireland triumphs at Croke Park on Sunday.
Rathmore, Tralee and Killarney were all awash with green and gold as fans celebrated with their heroes, a first senior success since 2009 and a first minor title in 20 years to ensure a first senior-minor double for Kerry since 1980.
Driven by Mallow native Damien O’Regan, the team crossed the Cork-Kerry border by train shortly before 5pm - a half an hour behind schedule - before stopping at Rathmore train station, where an estimated 3,000 strong crowd welcomed both squads, including clubmen Aidan O’Mahony, man of the match Paul Murphy and minor goalkeeper Shane Ryan.
It was the largest ever crowd to welcome a winning Kerry squad back to Rathmore.
Murphy said it was a special moment.
“We were probably written off, and rightly so given our league form, but we backed ourselves,” he said.
“We worked hard between league and Championship and we have a great management team in charge and we got it right thankfully.
O’Mahony added: “Not many people gave this panel a chance, but the players have come through this year. Eamon (Fitzmaurice) was all over that game yesterday with the calls he made and the confidence he instilled in the team was fantastic.”
The squads arrived at a sundrenched Tralee train station at 6.48pm to shouts of ‘Kerry, Kerry, Kerry’ and a massive cheer for hometown man Kieran Donaghy.
An hour later, veteran player Marc Ó Sé carried the Sam Maguire Cup on stage to the strains of The Rose of Tralee.
Kerry GAA Chairman Patrick O'Sullivan paid tribute to both teams.
“In my role as Chairperson of the Kerry County Board I would just like to congratulate two of the greatest teams that have ever left this county - the Kerry minor team of 2014 and the Kerry senior team of 2014,” he said.
Kerry senior manager Eamon Fitzmaurice praised supporters for turning out in such large numbers.
“Thanks to everyone for the massive support,” he said. “The future is bright in Kerry. It is a very exciting time to be involved in Kerry football with the success this year in the Hogan Cup and the minors and seniors winning on Sunday.
“I can tell ye we are only getting started.”
Austin Stacks clubman Kieran Donaghy was thrilled to bring an All-Ireland title back to his hometown.
“We train all year to bring these cups home and it is great that ye showed your support in such great numbers and I would like to thank ye very much from the bottom of our hearts.”
Following a meal at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, the squads travelled to Glebe St in the town, where at 10.18pm, over an hour behind schedule, joint captains Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O’Leary came on stage with the Sam Maguire Cup.
Fitzgerald told the crowd that winning a first All-Ireland medal is special.
“We are in a very privileged position,” he said. “A number of us on the team are here in our first All-Ireland and are after winning our first medal. It’s a fantastic place to be.
“Yesterday evening we absorbed as best we could, but I think it was when we hit Rathmore this evening, and Tralee earlier, and now my home town of Killarney that it has really hit home what it means.”
Meanwhile, thousands gathered to welcome home the vanquished Donegal senior and minor football teams.
The squads arrived back into the Diamond in Donegal Town around 8.30pm to huge cheers, after a year which saw both squads pick up Ulster titles.