THEY may have won 26 All-Irelands, but last night Tipperary’s players and back-room staff came together with supporters to celebrate as if this year’s was their first.
Perhaps it was their close call in 2009, or the thrilling nature of their hurling, or their dethroning of one of history’s greatest hurling teams, but whatever the motivation there was no doubting the devotion this Tipperary team have built among their faithful.
Tens of thousands of blue-and-gold-bedecked supporters, young and old, packed themselves into Thurles last night to welcome home their Cat-conquering heroes and add to the scenes of joy which have been general throughout the county since about 5pm on Sunday.
The special train carrying the new All-Ireland champions arrived at the station in Thurles at about 6.20pm, with team captain Eoin Kelly and manager Liam Sheedy in the driver’s area with the most important guest of all – the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
It was an “unreal feeling” to be back on home turf, Eoin Kelly confessed. “Happy days,” he laughed, while Liam Sheedy said he was “wrecked” after an eventful few days. Their broad smiles couldn’t be suppressed, however.
While most supporters headed straight to Semple Stadium for the official reception, a few hundred turned up at the station to be among the first to greet the players on their arrival. Then it was onto an open-top bus which made its way through the crowds, who sang Slievenamon, and through part of the town before arriving at the stadium shortly after 7pm.
As the players and management were introduced one by one in the famous old venue, among the loudest ovations were those for Eoin Kelly himself and hometown hat-trick hero Lar Corbett – or Larry as he’s known locally – who’s now sure to go down on the same gilded page of Thurles history as the likes of Jimmy Doyle, Tony Wall and Mickey “the Rattler” Byrne.
“It’s all about believing and we believed we could do the job,” said the ace goalscorer, adding that it was “a great feeling” to be home.
Last year it was a despondent squad who made their way to Semple Stadium after narrowly losing out to the history-making Cats.
This time around the mood was entirely different after Sunday’s dramatic game which saw Tipperary take an early lead, hold off a Kilkenny fightback and then dance out of reach in the closing, emotion-drenched minutes.
For the players, last night’s festivities in Thurles brought an end to another long day which started off at their Dublin base in the Burlington Hotel, continued with them making a visit to Crumlin Children’s Hospital before a direct train back to Tipp from Heuston Station.
Semple Stadium was en fete from 5pm yesterday evening when the gates opened, with crowds immediately pouring in and entertainment laid on from the likes of Johnny B and the Boogie Men – the people who brought you the “Tipperary Rap”.
On home soil throughout yesterday, the talk was of little else across the towns, villages, crossroads and farms of the county as supporters – long-standing devotees and newfound enthusiasts alike – spoke of their team’s achievement.
Some looked the worse for wear after a long Sunday evening celebrating, some were tired from all the travelling of the last couple of days, but their enthusiasm could not be dimmed following what’s already being described as one of the sweetest of the county’s 26 All-Ireland wins.
For the players and their management, it promises to be a long and exhausting yet no doubt exhilarating week as the celebrations continue.
Next up is a visit tonight to Eoin Kelly’s home town of Mullinahone.
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