AS the sky faded from bright azure to the cool grey of dusk, a mighty roar rose from the river of blue-clad Dubs crowded into Merrion Square. Dublin 2 was transformed into Hill 16 as thousands of supporters gathered with the happy task of greeting an old pal, Sam Maguire, who had gone off on his holliers to Donegal for the past year.
And maybe the cheers were tinged with relief – it had been a close-run thing in Croker on Sunday, a frantic scramble to the whistle with only one point in it at the end, and a giant screen on the square beamed out the highlights of the nail-biting Dublin-Mayo final as a reminder of just how close it had been.
But the Dubs had prevailed. Sam wasn't heading west of the Shannon – he was speeding through the capital on a bus to be hoisted aloft to the fans as proof that the dramatic victory over Kerry two years ago hadn't been a fluke or a false dawn or a once-in-a-Blue-moon.
Barriers had been erected on three sides of the square last night in expectation of a massive crowd; it may not have been quite as big as anticipated but they were exuberantly noisy. This had been billed as a family celebration, and families turned out in large numbers.
Perhaps mindful of their youthful audience, the speeches before the team were introduced were kept miraculously short. Dublin chairman Andy Kettle thanked the supporters. "You're the most important people – the players play for you and only you," he declared.
Des Cahill was master of ceremonies and introduced the winners of the National League and the All-Ireland.
"There's only the Ploughing Championship left to win," he joked (though the odds must have been very long on many of his audience making the pilgrimage to the Electric Picnic of Rural Ireland, which kicks off in Laois today).
First onstage was Bryan Cullen, who led the team to All-Ireland victory in 2011 (he'd be familiar with the neighbourhood, as it's only down the road from Coppers, the nightclub which received an unforgettable plug in his victory speech). The squad were introduced onstage – some strode on, all waves and wide grins; others sidled on to the platform like mortified young fellas on their first day in school.
They looked so young, standing on the stage and waving like boys at the crowd. And so many of them are – neither Michael Darragh Macauley or Ciaran Kilkenny made it into the first day of their respective college terms yesterday morning. Other lads were eager to pay tribute to the fans.
"Thanks very much for coming out today. Fair play to yiz," said Paul Flynn, while a hoarse-voiced Diarmuid Connolly kept his message short: "Come on the boys in blue!"
The cheers grew louder as the trio of Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews and two-goal hero Bernard Brogan stepped out into the spotlight. And then on came the star of the show, Sam, carried like an emperor by captain Stephen Cluxton, whose boot had kept the Dubs in the hunt for glory, and their manager Jim Gavin. The sky rattled. "Championes," sang the Dubs.
There were a couple of songs from Kevin McManamon with his brother Sean on guitar, and from Dean Rock. One thing is for sure – those boys won't be playing Croker in any other capacity except football.