Sporting memories

Team returns to hero’s welcome

7 September 1980: All Ireland champions Galway.  Back row, l-r,  Conor Hayes, Steve Mahon, John Connolly, Michael Connolly, Frank Burke, Noel Lane, Sean Silke, front row, l-r, Niall McInerney, Seamus Coen, Jimmy Cooney, Joe Connolly, Sylvie Linnane, PJ Molloy, and Bernie Forde. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

7 September 1980: All Ireland champions Galway. Back row, l-r, Conor Hayes, Steve Mahon, John Connolly, Michael Connolly, Frank Burke, Noel Lane, Sean Silke, front row, l-r, Niall McInerney, Seamus Coen, Jimmy Cooney, Joe Connolly, Sylvie Linnane, PJ Molloy, and Bernie Forde. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"Galway hit harder than Hurricane Flora" on Sunday when the Corrib County senior hurlers became the All Ireland champions after a wait of 57 years.

Their winning margin over Limerick was only three points, but it was sufficient to spark one of the greatest shows of emotion and cause for celebration since the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Ballybrit in September last year.

Almost 65,000 fans turned out in Croke Park on Sunday to see this brilliant display of the ancient art of hurling where the Tribesmen chalked up their second victory over their Shannonside opponents to bring the much coveted McCarthy Cup to Galway.

And to commemorate this historic event which lifted the blanket of depression that shrouded the Corrib hurlers when they lost their golden chance of an All Ireland last year, Galway decided to celebrate the team's homecoming in style on Monday night.

From Athlone to Galway bonfires blazed. From early evening every town and village in Galway County came alive with music, laughter and overspilling jubilation in joyous scenes which had not been witnessed on such scale since the halycon days of 1923.

Crowds became to gather along the Dublin-Galway road from 7pm to ensure when the cavalcade of buses containing the team, their wives, girlfriends and officials, would eventually wind its way westward, they would be welcomed with a heart and a half.

Eyre Square was alive and throbbing since early evening as local songsters "The Cronin Family", "The Conquerors", and "Search for the Stars" winner Vinne Mongan exercised their vocal cords in preparation for this never-to-be-matched jamboree of song, dance and celebrations.

Avid fans and proud county men filed through Shop Street like armies of the night, suppressing brimming excitement which led them to embrace each passing stranger in a gesture of goodwill.

The city was bedecked in maroon and white. From the top of the Bank of Ireland in Eyre Square hung a huge flag, blowing in the wind. Every mother's son wore a flag, a rosette, or maroon and white cap. Cuddly teddy bears were all dressed up and clumsily clutching little hurleys. Well illustrated banners were being hoisted five hours before the team's return, and one in particular caught the eye, begging John Connolly to rethink his decision to quit - "Don't go John, wait for three in a row," it read.

Twenty-thousand people

On the stage The Conquerors" encouraged the well wishers to shake a leg and sway to "Galway Boys Hurragh" as spot lights focused on the crowd, illuminating those eager joyous faces rising from a sea of maroon and white.

The queues of supporters stretched along Eye Square, spilling onto Prospect Hill, Eyre Square and Shop Street. One onlooker recalled coming face to face with 700 people in one particular pub. Every few minutes all eyes would lift upwards as fireworks went off, momentarily lighting the night sky.

One Garda spokesman estimated there must have been at least 20,000 people in Eyre Square with another 4,000 expected once the stars of the show arrived.

When the coach carrying the jubilant team approach­ed, the crowd erupted, chanting and screaming as they blew kisses to their cult heroes.

Joe Connolly, the 23-year-old captain who guided his maroon jerseyed brigade to victory over Sean Foley's green clad crew opened the night with the words: "The All Ireland Champions of 1980 are Galway." He thanked Galway for its unflagging support, saying "it's for ye we won the All Ireland".

John Connolly, the 32-year-old Castlegar contractor whose decision to retire rocked Galway, said "we're going to bring this cup to every village and parish in the county".

Mayor of Galway, Cllr Bridie O'Flaherty, stood proud and erect as she expressed her joy in being the first Mayor of Galway to welcome a McCarthy Cup winning team to Galway in 57 yeras.

"I hope it's only 52 weeks until we fill that cup again, and I would like to say how proud we are of all our hurlers today."

 

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