Homecoming was reward for a generation who never knew success

David Burke and Micheal Donoghue at the Galway Hurlers homecoming to Pearce Stadium on Monday night. 
Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

David Burke and Micheal Donoghue at the Galway Hurlers homecoming to Pearce Stadium on Monday night. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Out they came in their thousands, in a weekend that saw fifty thousand shades of maroon on every street in the city and county.

On Sunday morning, the motorway bridges along the M6 were thronged with well-wishers not fortunate enough to have tickets, but keen to be part of the massive groundswell of support that was heading east.

The vast majority of those who spent the weekend bedecked in the colours were those who had not even been born in 1988, whose only taste of Galway senior success was through the tales passed down by those were were there, fans who back then could not have imagined that it would be almost three decades before success would return.

The Galway fanbase survived on slim pickings in that intervening period, but buoyed up by the belief generated by the National League victory this year and the comprehensive nature of that success, support had grown over the year.

And so everyone wanted to be part of it, to sample a taste of a final where for once they traveled as favourites, free from the shackles of rivalry with Kilkenny and Tipperary.

There were double lanes of tailback traffic for many parts of the journey up, and the same on the way down for those who were keen to get out of the capital and back to the county where partying had begin at mid-afternoon.

Many question the wisdom of bringing tens of thousands across a city strangled by rush hour traffic on a Monday evening when a location like the racecourse might be a more suitable and well-served location in terms of traffic and parking, but there was no stopping the flow of fans who wanted to be there for the historic event. People who had heard tales from the 1980s of late nights and bonfires and raucous speeches in Eyre Square, and they wanted something to be able to tell their grandchildren.

Many of the team were up early, in a reversal of the way things used to be done traditionally when some players might not surface until noon. This team knew what was ahead of them on Monday — the traditional visit to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, where they showed off the cup to staff, families, and most importantly to the young patents who are wishing that they can recover wellness to see them emulate their heroes.

Crumlin is a great tradition

I think this is one of the best traditions of the GAA — that the heroes sorry and bruised from the day before, but icons of strength, will take out time and visit those who being treated for illness. It sends out a signal too that we can all adopt through life — those who are most strong at any given time, should always look out and care for those who are most vulnerable.

In the olden days, when there was no choice but to travel through Ballinasloe and Aughrim and Kilreekil and Loughrea and Craughwell and Oranmore before they got to the city, now, in the interest of health and safety, the team coach moved with stealth and organisation along the motorway to its first stop in Ballinasloe where the teams were greeted onto the stage by the Caithaoirleach of Galway County Council, Cllr Eileen Mannion.

15,000 people had gathered since lunchtime to get a ringside view of the heroes and with Sean Slattery and the Connections banging out popular numbers like the Fields of Athenry, Wagon Wheel, and the Galway Girl, the crowd were in full voice throughout the short visit.

The teams, all dressed in smart jeans and shirts supplied by Hanley Menswear (who also supplied their banquet suits on Sunday night ), looked impressive specimens of athleticism as they were called forward one by one to take the plaudits of the crowd.

There was an emotional scene when manager Micheal Donoghue showed the cup to his parents. It was a moment of great pride that was captured sensitively by watching photographers. An abiding image of a success that was different.

By this stage, several thousand had gathered in Pearse Stadium, and this number doubled and doubled after 5pm when traffic in the city came to standstill with the massive volume of cars heading to Salthill. Entertained by Ollie Turner and musicians like Sean Costello and Frank Naughton and TV star Grainne Seoige, fans appreciated that the time passed quickly.

Just before 7pm, the team made their way down the terracing at Pearse Stadium and onto the stage where they were introduced one by one by Galway Bay fm’s Sean Walsh, himself a proud Dad, having seen his son Conor win a minor medal on Sunday.

Mayor Pearse Flannery who had earlier entertained the crowd with a rousing version of The Fields of Athenry, welcomed the team and spoke of the elite club that David Burke had joined when he became one of just four people to captain Galway to All-senior hurling success.

Success for all those who had striven for three decades

In addressing the crowd, Micheal Donoghue said that the success on Sunday was not just for the team and supporters, but was also a tribute to the many managers who had preceded him, who had developed the players and the structures that led to this famous win.

“This amazing victory by a fantastic squad of players is not just for us, but for all those who battled for Galway in the last 29 years,” he said.

Captain David Burke who had wowed so many with his long and heartfelt speech on Sunday said that they could not take in the enormity of what they had achieved.”

“Thanks to so many of you for coming out here tonight and raising your flags to support us and welcome us home. These are memories that will mean so much to us in the days and months and years ahead and we will treasure them forever,” he said.

“If there are any young boys or girls out there who are playing hurling or camogie, let them learn that what this team achieved was through teamwork,” he said.

County board officials confirmed that the team will do their best to get the McCarthy Cup to every school and club in the city and county over the next few months so that the legacy of this win passes down to everyone.

And with that, the party ended, and the teams and entourage headed off in to the night, to start the real celebrations.

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