They call it the home of hurling and on nights like last night, it’s easy to see why.
Thousands poured into the revered surrounds of Semple Stadium to welcome home the heroes who, 24 hours beforehand, had put a stop to Kilkenny’s gallop and won Tipperary’s first senior All-Ireland in six years.
“Liam MacCarthy is back,” as captain Brendan Maher said to the adoring hordes at the climax of the evening.
From mid-afternoon, those crowds started to gather in Thurles, while up in Dublin, the players, management and backroom team left their weekend base at the Burlington Hotel and made the journey south, by bus, to the heartland.
Six years may not seem too long with an All-Ireland to many counties, but in these parts, when neighbours and rivals Kilkenny are farming most of the garlands in the intervening years, it’s viewed as long enough.
So the relentless hammering home of Tipperary’s advantage as Sunday’s second half wore on was greeted with roars of relief as much as joy, and so the hats, flags, headbands, trumpets, posters were out in force for the evening in anticipation of the players’ arrival home, even some quickly- assembled “number plates,” 16-T-Liam, which sold like hot cakes in aid of the players’ fund.
While waiting for the team, not forgetting the minors who also earned glory on Sunday, the crowds were entertained by country and Irish star Louise Morrissey, all the way from west Tipp, and The Two Johnnies whose latest rap/song, ‘This Could Be Our Year’, has been in demand in recent days.
Meanwhile, next door in The Dome venue, The Sunday Game played on a loop, as it has done in many of the homes and hostelries of Slievenamon since Sunday.
Before 8pm, the moment the Tipp faithful had been waiting for drew closer as the stars arrived made its way to Semple Stadium, the cheers getting louder and forming a crescendo until the players, with Liam McCarthy in safe hands, made their public appearance on stage.
Led by their popular and unassuming captain Brendan Maher, they were cheered one and all, along with manager Michael Ryan and his selectors, with some of the loudest cheers greeting man-of-the-match Seamus Callanan of the 13-points, goalscorer John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, he of the “f-bomb” on live TV two days ago, and of course captain Maher himself.
“Hopefully this is the beginning of something big for Tipperary,” the leader said to the supporters.
“We’re hugely honoured to be standing before you as All-Ireland champions.”
Team manager Michael Ryan said it meant “a huge amount to us” to see such numbers turning out to welcome the team home.
“We are home in our pitch, in the capital of hurling, which is Thurles.”
Once the formalities were over, it was into the darkening night for the medal-winning hurlers, their families and friends, ready for the next stage on their odyssey, to Brendan Maher’s home town of Borrisoleigh, before the visits to schools and clubs all over the county in the coming weeks.
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