DIE-HARD Cork fans issued a rousing rallying call to the Rebel army yesterday as they prepare to march on Croke Park.
Life-long GAA supporter Pa ‘The Piper’ O’Leary drove his signature red and white van through the heart of the city blaring Rebel songs from his roof-top speakers.
The former soldier and his fellow comrades, Tim ‘Jonty’ O’Leary and Tom ‘The Bomber’ Roche, called on Leesiders to fly flags for both the senior and minor teams playing in their All-Irelands tomorrow.
Pa, 67, who served on several overseas missions and who attended his first All-Ireland in 1956, said he was in Kilkenny before the hurling final and couldn’t believe the colour there.
“We should have red and white flags all over the place,” the Silversprings man said. “We did the double in 1990 and hopefully we’ll do it again on Sunday.”
He and his men are ready for their assault on Croke Park tomorrow, he said.
It has been planned with military precision and honed over the years.
They are booked on the 07.30 train out of Kent Station. On arrival in Dublin’s Heuston station, they must rendezvous at Mulligan’s Bar before boarding the Luas for Clonliffe Road.
There, they will form their band — Pa and The Bomber on pipes, Jonty on drums — before leading the Rebel Army in song up Jones’s Road and onto Hill 16.
The Bomber, from Blackpool, said the atmosphere in the build-up to an All-Ireland final is unique.
“You don’t get it anywhere in the world,” he said.
St Finbarr’s supporter, Jonty, hasn’t missed an All-Ireland hurling or football final since 1956 and was shortlisted in 2006 for Fan of the Championship.
“They [the Cork team] haven’t played that well yet. But if they play to their potential, if they get a good game, they’ll annihilate Down,” he said.
The men are due to return to Cork by train on Monday. The GAA has scrapped the team’s traditional open-top parade from Kent railway station to the city centre, opting instead to transport the team by coach, directly from Dublin to the homecoming stage.
“They have just scrapped a tradition of 60 years. The stopover at Mallow and everything,” Pa said.
“I used to love coming up MacCurtain Street. I think it’s a disgrace.”
But he promised he and his men will be on the streets to welcome them home.
Publican Larry Tompkins, the last Cork senior football captain to lift the Sam Maguire in 1990, said everyone is looking forward to the team putting in a huge performance.
“I hope that having gained the experience over last five or six years, it will certainly be a big thing for them,” he said.
His former team-mate Dave Barry said nobody will remember the build-up. “Everyone remembers the All-Ireland final and how it went,” he said. “It’s the sign of a good team that when you’re not playing well, you’re winning.”
And spare a thought for the couple who fell in love at the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna but who will be bitter rivals tomorrow.
Mother-of-two and Newry native Mary Buckley, who lives in Meelin, Co Cork, is not just the only person in the family supporting Down, she’s the only one in the village backing the northerners.
Husband Pat, 43, his mother, Tess, and the family’s two sons, Anthony, 10, and Declan, eight, will all be roaring on the Rebel county tomorrow.
But Mary, 47, insisted last night that she’ll have the last laugh “when Down bring home the Sam Maguire”.
“There’s been a lot of banter going on and I’ve been getting a bit of stick. Even my two sons are deserting me when the match is on. I’m all on my own at the moment, but I’ll have the last laugh,” she said.
Mary also said the Down team reminds her of a very special day, as the team is sponsored by The Canal Court Hotel, where she and Pat were married in 1998.
“We met at the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna in 1992. I wasn’t there looking for a husband. I was just down for the craic. But I met Pat in a bar and the rest is history.
“We got married in the Canal Court six years later and moved here to Meelin after that.”
Mary said the tension in the house will be unbearable tomorrow when the match kicks off.
But she added: “If anyone has any spare tickets, I’d love to hear from them. I’d give anything to be at Croke Park to cheer Down on to victory.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved