Premier party starts as heroes come home
Massive crowds join celebrations at home of hurling
THEY may have won 26 All-Irelands, but last night Tipperary's players and back-room staff came together with supporters to celebrate as if this year's was their first.
Perhaps it was their close-call last year, or the thrilling nature of their hurling, or their dethroning of one of history's greatest hurling teams, but whatever the motivation there was no doubting the devotion this Tipperary team have built among their faithful fans.
An estimated 30,000 blue-and-gold-bedecked supporters, young and old, packed themselves into Thurles last night to welcome home their Cat-conquering heroes and add to the scenes of joy which have been seen throughout the county since about 5pm on Sunday.
The special train carrying the new All-Ireland champions arrived in Thurles at about 6.20pm, with team captain Eoin Kelly and manager Liam Sheedy in the driver's area with the most important guest of all -- the Liam McCarthy Cup.
It was an "unreal feeling" to be back on home turf, Kelly confessed. "Happy days," he laughed, while Sheedy said he was "wrecked" after an eventful few days. The broad smiles couldn't be suppressed, however.
While most supporters headed straight to Semple Stadium for the official reception, a few hundred turned up at the station to be among the first to greet the players on their arrival. Then it was on to an open-top bus which made its way through the crowds, who sang 'Slievenamon', and through part of the town before arriving at the stadium just after 7pm.
As the players and management were introduced one-by-one in the famous old venue, among the loudest ovations were those for Kelly himself and home-town hat-trick hero Lar Corbett who's now sure to go down on the same gilded page of Thurles history as the likes of Jimmy Doyle, Tony Wall and Mickey 'the Rattler' Byrne.
"It's all about believing and we believed we could do the job," said the ace goalscorer, adding that it was "a great feeling" to be home.
On home soil yesterday, the talk was of little else across the towns, villages and farms of the county as supporters -- long-standing devotees and new-found enthusiasts alike -- spoke of their team's achievement.
Some looked the worse for wear after a long Sunday evening celebrating, some were tired from all the travelling over the last couple of days, but their enthusiasm could not be dimmed.
For the players and management it promises to be a long and exhausting -- yet no doubt exhilarating -- week as the celebrations continue.