THEY had been waiting for 20 years for him to come home, so up to 50,000 fans did not mind a bit when Sam Maguire was delayed by almost an hour on his trip back to the rebel county.
From the homecoming stand at the corner of Parnell Square it was a sea of red along the full length of South Mall and as far as the eye could see.
From 6pm on there were booming choruses of “We are the Champions” and “Simply the Best” echoing along the length of the River Lee.
As the announcement came that the team’s coach had finally crossed the border into the Rebel county, the cheers reached a far higher decibel.
But they were barely a whisper compared to the ocean of noise which boomed towards the coach when it came into sight and parked up opposite the Clarion Hotel.
“We Want Sam” bayed the crowd as the suited and booted heroes were temporarily stalled en-route to the stage by the wall of cameras and microphones.
There was a poignant moment as, just seconds before he took to the stage, half-back Noel O’Leary was wrapped in a bear-hug by former Cork manager and Cork GAA stalwart Billy Morgan.
Once on stage the team gladly joined in a chorus of “Oh to be a Rebel” before the crowd listened to a host of dignitaries heaping praise on the team’s achievements.
Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley pointed out that Sam Maguire was a west Cork man. “Tonight another west Cork man Graham Canty is bringing Sam home,” he said.
There was magnanimous applause as minor team manager Brian Cuthbert took to the stage and apologised for his team falling short by the cruellest of margins against Tyrone.
Cuthbert was offered well-earned words of comfort by the next speaker, the man who steered the senior team to the championship, Conor Counihan.
The All-Ireland winning bainesteoir said that while Sunday was a great day for Cork, what is more important is the future and he said the minors had shown that the future for the county was hugely strong.
“20 years is a long, long time to wait,” he told the crowd. “You have been patient. Sam is home and Sam is home to stay!”
The demand to see the team’s homecoming was so high that, with so many people logging on to see their heroes, a livefeed to the Irish Examiner website suffered technical difficulties as the festivities were just beginning.
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