PAUL ROUSE: Limerick come out on top in a passion play like no other

Cian Lynch hugs his mother Valerie after Limerick won the All-Ireland hurling title.

tSé mo laoch mo ghile mear
Sé mo Shéasar, gile mear
Suan gan séan ní
bhfuair mé
Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo
ghile mear

It has pushed past 11pm and the beautiful, haunting words of ‘Sé mo laoch’ are echoing out across the North Circular Road from the stools set up outside Gills’ Pub as the Landers sisters from Galbally sing on into the night, writes Paul Rouse.

There’s a man from Mayo on the guitar and an assortment of people from various corners of the country have sung for several hours; a very tall man is executing a series of dance manoeuvres that leaves the Laws of Physics in tatters.

It’s the type of night where it is impossible not to get carried on the green wave of elation and relief that broke with the final whistle.

The warmth in the air isn’t just climatic; Galway people were obviously disappointed but all the talk in the pub was of how happy people were for Limerick.

That they have had their share of disappointments made the victory all the sweeter and it was also entirely fitting that the endgame proved fraught in a way that did not reflect the balance of the play.

The injury time that was rightly played at the end of the match almost left Limerick entirely undone, but the suffering it brought only added to the way that the final whistle was celebrated.

The roar that greeted that whistle was guttural and fierce, something that no words can adequately explain, something you feel but cannot articulate.

The scenes in Croke Park around the presentation produced mixed emotions, however.

It was wonderful to see so many Limerick people happy, but the sight of hundreds of yellow-vested stewards pushing back people from climbing onto the pitch was irritating and unnecessarily overbearing.

How come every GAA pitch in the country can cope with people coming onto it after games, but not Croke Park?

The fireworks and the streamers are a poor substitute for the swaying of an emotional crowd.

And what an emotional crowd it was. Everywhere people were crying tears of joy. And there was almost a sense of disbelief that Limerick had finally turned their tale of woe into one of wonder.

As the ground emptied onto the streets of north Dublin, Limerick people embraced each other as they reunited from various parts of the stadium.

An elderly man and what can only have been his two sons, a daughter and a few grandsons met in a sort of group hug that looked like it might never end.

‘I lived to see it, I lived to see it,’ he kept repeating, time and again.

And the pubs where generations of Limerick fans had drowned their sorrows, now pulsed with bliss.

For a group of neutrals (all shouting for Limerick, of course) who meet every year for this one match, the highlight of the evening was when the Limerick bus pulled up Jones’s Road and stopped at the lights at Gills Pub.

TomMorrissey celebrates with supporters at Limerick’s homecoming at the Gaelic Grounds on Monday
TomMorrissey celebrates with supporters at Limerick’s homecoming at the Gaelic Grounds on Monday

The Limerick people poured out of the pub and filled the path and the roadway, clapping and cheering. More than a few shed tears.

Inside the bus was a spectacle of pure joy. The Liam MacCarthy Cup was being carried up the front and in the rows of seats behind were young men bursting with the meaning of success. They were banging the windows and waving and jumping around the place. It was a pure treasure to witness.

It stood in stark contrast to the misery that was evident when the Waterford bus stopped at the same lights the previous year.

The players were, to a man, staring straight ahead and avoiding the windows.

They knew they had had a real chance and they didn’t take it and that is always the worst type of loss.

Players who lose All-Ireland finals say that, at first, they think about the defeat all the time, and then they begin to think about it a little less often, and then only sometimes.

But they never stop thinking about it altogether.

The likelihood is that those Waterford players will only really get over the 2017 defeat if they come back and win one before they retire.

A dejected Pauric Mahony after Waterford’s All-Ireland final loss in 2017
A dejected Pauric Mahony after Waterford’s All-Ireland final loss in 2017

For some of them, that will not happen. Maybe even for all of them.

Eventually, the Limerick bus got to move on through the crowd and as it passed on out through the city, people stopped and clapped and cheered them.

The sense around Dublin on Sunday night was that this would not be the last time that those Limerick players would leave Croke Park with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

There are no guarantees in any of this, of course: Limerick might not even get out of Munster next year. They are now there to be hunted in the same way that they hunted Galway.

But even if not next year, it is still hard to see how this team will not get better and better in the coming years – and ultimately win at least another All-Ireland.

They have an irresistible mix of power and pace to put with the class of their hurling.

And they play with a certain flair – even exuberance – as well.

There is no need to burden them with wild predictions as to how many they might ultimately win – after all, there is now a long list of teams who can harbour genuine ambitions to win a senior hurling All-Ireland.

All five teams in the Munster championship can consider themselves realistic contenders, as can Galway and Kilkenny in the ‘Leinster’ hurling championship.

Behind them, Wexford and Dublin are pushing hard to turn themselves into contenders, even if they are currently at a remove from the elite.

The point being that both Wexford and Dublin could beat either Galway or Kilkenny in next year’s Leinster championship, although it is hard to see them repeating such victories week after week.

It all means that next year’s championship already stands as a prospect to relish.

There is something unseemly about already thinking about the next time, but that too is a reflection of the brilliance of this year.

In ‘Sé mo laoch’, the chorus talks of Caesars and heroes and dashing darlings. As it rang out around Jones’ Road while Sunday turned to Monday, the hurlers of Limerick were now all of that and more. And the people who they represent with such honour know it full well.

- Paul Rouse is associate professor of history at University College Dublin and his new book The Hurlers is published on September 6.

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