It was a joy to be a Galway person on the first Sunday of September 1980, the day our hurlers ended years of frustration, perennial underachievement, near misses, noble defeats, controversial defeats, the hard luck stories, the emptiness.
There were so many highlights that day; the nervous expectancy as we drove to Dublin; the rumour that Fr Iggy had been inspirational when saying Mass for the team that morning helped galvanise us all; the palpable nerves before the ball was thrown in; the early goals by PJ Molloy and Bernie Forde; the terrific battle between Niall McInerney and Joe McKenna; the physicality of the entire match, the bravery of Michael Conneely; the emergence of Eamonn Cregan for Limerick in the second half; Joe McKenna scoring a goal for them with about ten minutes left; the Galway fingernails that were bitten away over the next ten minutes; the deflection of the sliotar over the bar from a last minute Limerick goal attempt; the final whistle; disbelief; a look at the scoreboard; Galway 2 – 15, Limerick 3 – 9; it is true, we’ve won. The tears.
The players collapsed on the pitch but were instantly overwhelmed by hordes of supporters, the pitch disappearing under a sea of maroon; the unique potent speech by Joe Connolly; “Tar Éis seacht bliain is caoga tá Corn Mhiv Cárthaigh ar ais i nGaillimh”; the magical rendition of ‘The West’s Awake' by Joe McDonagh; the appearance on the stand of Fr Iggy. We were emotionally drained as we got into the car but the chat was non-stop after that. The first bonfire we passed was at Moate, then came that magical moment when we got to the bridge at Athlone – we all cheered as loudly as our hoarse throats would let us - we were bringing the McCarthy across the Shannon. Galway was awash with maroon and white banners and flags, horns blazing, people dancing, and singing in the streets.
The following evening about 5,000 people were waiting for the team at the bridge in Athlone. The delay meant a long wait for the thousands of supporters along the roadside around bonfires as the motorcade slowly drove west to welcomes at Ballinasloe, Kilrickle, Loughrea, Craughwell, and Oranmore before finally arriving in Eyre Square to an amazing cacophony of noise from an ecstatic 30,000 fans. Joe Connolly’s opening line to the crowd was “The All-Ireland Champions of 1980 are Galway”.
The long wait was over, Galway’s present had finally caught up with its past.