A bitter Autumn wind was circling around Pearse Stadium, as 6,000 fans turned out to welcome their heroes home on Monday night. They were arriving home minus the prize they set out for, but to the Galway natives, this team will forever be hailed as heroic ambassadors of Galway hurling.
The majority of those who turned out were only hours home from making the cross country pilgrimage to Croke Park for Sunday’s game, but their admiration for the team was so deep that they felt compelled to be in Pearse Stadium last night to greet the boys. The pitch was open to the public for most of the day, and by 7pm supporters donning maroon and white attire were filing into the seated area of the pitch in large numbers. Media crews were beginning to assemble their equipment, and two large television screens were suspended on the opposite side of the pitch replaying clips from the game. The progression of the team’s return journey was regularly relayed to the crowd and even when the team had stopped briefly in Athlone for supper, the sense of anticipation did not wane.
Darkness was setting in, as the team’s arrival drew closer, and it was time to take out the thermal wear. As the minutes passed, the stewards positioned themselves along the corridor leading out onto the pitch from where the team would later emerge. Galway Bay fm DJs Jon Richards, and Ollie Turner encouraged the fans to join in for a few renditions of ‘The Fields Of Athenry’ in preparation for the team’s arrival. The crowd’s enthusiasm prevailed against the dreary weather and at 8.30pm, their loyalty was rewarded as Fergal Moore and Anthony Cunningham entered the stadium. They joined Mayor Terry O’Flaherty at the podium in the heart of the stand to sign the civic reception book. Before they did so, Mayor O’Flaherty praised the team for their efforts. “Each and everyone of us are proud of our boys , and they’ll be back with the Liam McCarthy cup next year.”
Fergal Moore, and Anthony Cunningham, were “humbled” and “taken aback by the warm reception”. The team panel then walked out to the pitch and waved to the crowd. They were treated to such a level of appreciation that you would scarcely believe that Galway had lost. To conclude proceedings, Andy Smith led the charges in a recitation of the first few bars of ‘The Field Of Athenry’, albeit an octave too high. But as the lyrics poured from their lips there was a distinct belief that an All-Ireland title is just around the corner for this Galway team.