Surveying the crowd of thousands last night in Nowlan Park at another victory celebration, Brian Cody was already planting the seeds for more All-Ireland homecomings in Kilkenny.
Once upon a time, he told the devoted, the players who earned a 36th title for the county on Sunday were standing in the crowd of supporters, cheering and watching as their heroes were winning in days gone by. “That gave them the drive and ambition and dream to get up on that stage themselves, to get to play with Kilkenny and be a part of something like this. It’s certain there are young children and teenagers in the stand tonight, you people have that same dream and same ambition and same determination to some day be up wearing the black and amber and hopefully be part of a team that brings back the Liam MacCarthy Cup.”
Sounding an ominous note for other hurling counties, he added: “The players behind me are leading the way now, it’s vitally important that what happens now continues to happen.”
After receiving the loudest cheer of the evening when he strode onto the stage, Cody pointed out that 31 counties were rooting for Galway in Sunday’s final, “and that’s understandable”, he said as he hailed their opponents “magnificent” first half, but then he reminded everyone what makes his side great.
“I think the display in the second half and the skill and strength of character they showed can be compared to any display by any team in any code, anywhere.”
The Kilkenny manager’s speech was the last of a homecoming event which got under way when the team bus arrived at Kilkenny Castle at 5.45pm, allowing the players to board an open-top bus for the familiar journey through the streets towards Nowlan Park.
Up to 12,000 people in all gathered on the streets and in Nowlan Park, the headquarters of hurling in Kilkeny, to welcome the players and the cup.
Among them was one brave soul who ran the risk of the wrath of the gardaí by streaking onto the pitch wearing little more than a pair of socks before being wrested to safety and out of the view of innocent eyes.
The manager watched as his players were introduced one-by-one to the crowd by board chairman Ned Quinn, starting with captain Joey Holden, “a giant of a man.”
Singer-songwriter Alan Hayes led the players and supporters in a rendition of The Rose of Mooncoin to wind up the formalities and usher in another night of festivities. Within minutes, the players left the stadium on foot and made their way back into the city centre for a meal and some time to relax, standing in for photos with fans on their way.
Just the All-Ireland champions out for a stroll, taking the night off before returning to their clubs and then beginning their preparations for next year.
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