Wednesday 28 September 2016

Victory not heady but 'nice' for Kilkenny fans

Winter settles bleakly in once again for bereft fans in Galway

Published 07/09/2015 | 02:30

Kilkenny supporters, Jane Stapleton, Sarah Morrissey, and Sorcha Fennel before the big match
Kilkenny supporters, Jane Stapleton, Sarah Morrissey, and Sorcha Fennel before the big match
Audrey Slevin. Photo: Collins
Phillip and Joe Coleman, Ballygar at the All Ireland hurling final between Galway and Kilkenny at Croke Park
Bertie Ahern signing an autograph for Kilkenney fan Sinead
Kate and Ellen Brennan, Mooncoyne outside Croke Park

It must be nice for Elton John when the royalty cheques still keep plopping down on the doormat. Not vital, not even interesting any more, just nice - in a bland sort of way.

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But if it's any consolation to him, Kilkenny fans know exactly how he feels.

As the final whistle blew on yet another All-Ireland hurling final victory by the Cats, the fans looked at one another and smiled an easy smile. Wasn't that nice?

After the 36th All-Ireland title, winning - while still catnip - is clearly not quite the heady buzz it used to be.

What would the same victory have meant for Galway, I stopped an elderly man to ask.

"Shure Jesus Christ, a girleen....." he trailed off, before patting my shoulder sadly and moving on.

There were no words.

This was to have been the year to end a winter of discontent for Galway that has stretched out for over a quarter of a century.

Gerry McInerney lined out in his now iconic runner boots the last time the Tribesmen pulled it out of the bag, in 1988.

In Kinvara, I drank red lemonade out of the hallowed Liam McCarthy cup along with the rest of them on the triumphant homecoming tour of the county schools.

All you got was a sip before it was snatched eagerly out of your hands by the next in turn. It's a memory that sparkles forever.

A generation of young men had since come and gone - always close but never quite close enough.

But with runner boots now back on fashionable feet, the Galway fans felt an imminent victory in their very bones.

This was it. Meanwhile, everyone else but Kilkenny just wanted a break from Kilkenny.

By 9.30am, the atmosphere was already building on the 'road to Rome', with a steady stream of cars rolling on the M6, flags and banners fluttering and horns beeping in eager anticipation.

On the Luas up from Heuston Station, another batch of fans broke into 'The Fields of Athenry'.

It was a funnel of pure energy, propelling itself effortlessly towards Croke Park.

An all-encompassing list of hurling fans - golfer Shane Lowry; Ireland managers both past and present, Roy Keane, Martin O'Neill and Brian Kerr; former billionaire Sean Quinn; and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern - while not partisan, were there for the sheer love of the game of the gods.

Outside Croker, diplomatic couple Jennifer Byrne from Danesfort, Co Kilkenny, and boyfriend Robert Gleese from Kilchreest, Co Galway, were preparing for a rough patch.

"We'll try and work it out but one of us won't be talking anyway on the way home," joked Robert.

A spectacular win by the Galway minors against Tipperary seemed to set the scene beautifully for an All-Ireland hurling double before a full house of 82,300.

But we should have known by the way Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley bounded out with an aerodynamic leap, that this team were not for beating.

The first half was all Galway's and the fans were wide-eyed with delirious ecstasy - three points up.

It was in the bag. They just had to keep it there.

But that proved impossible.

And as it all slid gradually away in the second half, the shouts became more agonised: "Come on Galway!"

The magic had evaporated.

And 15 minutes before full-time, the stands began to empty in a steady trickle. Nothing more to see here - though they did miss a heroic Galway goal by Joe Canning.

But it wasn't enough and for the people of Galway, winter has settled in once again with dreary familiarity.

at Croke

Park

Irish Independent

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