Soon after 5pm on the streets of Tipperary and on the roads leading south from Croke Park, the horns started beeping, the flags started waving, and the ham sandwiches and flasks of tea were forgotten as the thoughts started turning to nights of celebration and a winter that will seem less short.
They’d beaten Kilkenny.
Not just beaten them but blown them away, the closing minutes of this year’s All-Ireland hurling final played out in front of Tipp fans who could only look on in wonder and joy, both in Croke Park and at home in front of the TV screens, as their blue and gold heroes surged to a nine-point win.
“Tipp, Tipp, Tipp, Tipp,” the familiar battlecry now being sung in the knowledge that, “after six long years”, as captain Brendan Maher put it (much to the bemusement of many in other counties who have waited a lot longer), the Kilkenny train had been derailed.
Rivals they may be on the field of play and in the stands while the action is unfolding, but they are also neighbours, and last night, few in Kilkenny could begrudge their counterparts across the border a moment of glory.
In Urlingford, inside Co Kilkenny but close enough to the frontier to have many Tipp infiltrators watching the decider in the local homes and hostelries, there was as much blue and gold flown as in any Premier heartland.
“Thrilled,” said a beaming Richard Tobin, originally from Gortnahoe “across the border”, but now living in the town with his Kilkenny-supporting wife Margaret.
“It was a great performance out of Tipperary and it needed to be to do that.”
Margaret smiled a rueful smile as she reflected on a rare down day for the Cats.
“Disappointed, but at the same time Tipp deserved it. We’ve had plenty of it over the years, we have to share it out sometimes.”
The couple will both be cheering for Kilkenny next weekend, however, as daughter Davina lines out for the county camogie team.
In the Urlingford Arms, proprietor Nicholas Healy, a proud Kilkenny man, had feared the worst. “I think this could be Tipperary’s year,” he said beforehand, and his fears were realised, much to the delight of staff member Breda Hickey and Margaret Fennessy.
“We surely have it now,” Breda said in those closing minutes as the Tipp points flew over and the lead became insurmountable, and Ger Canning on RTÉ declared there was “absolutely no way back” for the outgoing champions.
“Woo hoo,” was Margaret’s reaction upon the final whistle.
“A fantastic feeling.”
Her nephew is Shane Long, from down the road in Gortnahoe, a former Tipp minor who was no doubt looking for a transmission of the final at his hotel in Serbia with the Irish international team, as they prepare for their World Cup qualifying opener tonight.
“He follows it all and his passion was hurling from the very beginning,” says the proud aunt.
Thomas Broderick from Urlingford clapped magnanimously at the final whistle, despite his disappointment.
“Not great,” was how he was feeling, “but at the same time, not too bad because my family are Tipperary.”
Like everyone in Kilkenny, he feels that the team and panel and management “owe us nothing” after years of unprecedented success, and he also feel that 2017 will bring new challenges and new opportunities.
“It wasn’t that Kilkenny played badly, by any means, Tipp were just phenomenal. They were brilliant. They never panicked and kept going the whole way.”
In the Premier county, preparations are being made to head for Thurles and tonight’s victory homecoming, when thousands will line the streets to greet the heroes who ended the six-year “famine”.
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