Tipp whip adoring fans into frenzy with talk of '17
Published 06/09/2016 | 02:30
The thousands who turned out on a balmy September evening to welcome home Tipperary's hurling heroes were already dreaming of their next sporting glory.
More than one mention was made at the homecoming in the GAA temple of Semple Stadium, Thurles, of 2017 - when Tipp will be aiming to put back-to-back All-Irelands together for the first time since the 1960s.
"Liam MacCarthy is back," team captain Brendan Maher told the adoring hordes.
From mid-afternoon, those crowds started to gather in Thurles, while up the motorway in Dublin the players, management and backroom team left their weekend base at the Burlington Hotel and made the journey south, by bus, to the heartland.
The players were still celebrating after Sunday's heroics, and were in good spirits as they made the traditional visits to the children's hospital, and landed on home turf after the bus journey south.
Six years may not seem too long to many counties who'd love to be winning All-Irelands that often, but in these parts, when neighbours and rivals Kilkenny are farming most of the garlands in the intervening years, it's viewed as long enough.
So the relentless hammering home of Tipperary's advantage as Sunday's second half wore on was greeted with roars of relief as much as joy.
No surprise then that the hats, flags, headbands, trumpets and posters were out in force for the evening in anticipation of the players' arrival home.
Some quickly assembled "number plates", 16-T-Liam, were selling like hot cakes in aid of the players' fund.
And they hope it won't be anything like six years before another triumphant September return.
"Hopefully this is the beginning of something big for Tipperary," Brendan Maher said. "We're destined for more success, hopefully in 2017 it will continue and we'll bring Liam MacCarthy home again."
While waiting for the team, not forgetting the minors who also earned glory on Sunday, the crowds were entertained by Country and Irish star Louise Morrissey, who had travelled all the way from west Tipperary.
Tipperary comedy duo The Two Johnnies also whipped the troops into a fervour with their latest song, 'The Premier Rap 2016'.
Meanwhile, next door in The Dome venue, 'The Sunday Game' played on a loop, so fans could watch the golden game over, and over again. Indeed, the match has been on repeat in many of the homes and hostelries of Slievenamon since Sunday evening.
Just before 8pm, the moment the Tipp faithful had been waiting for drew closer as the team's bus made its way to Semple Stadium.
The cheers built and eventually formed a crescendo as the players, with Liam MacCarthy in safe hands, made their public appearance on stage.
Led by the popular and unassuming Maher, with the notes from 'We Are the Champions' sounding out from the public address, they were cheered one and all.
Manager Michael Ryan and his selectors punched the air.
The loudest cheers greeted man-of-the-match Seamus Callanan of the 13-points, goalscorer John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, he of the "f-bomb" on live TV two days ago, and of course captain Maher himself.
"We're hugely honoured to be standing before you as All-Ireland champions," Maher told the crowd.
Team manager Ryan said it meant "a huge amount to us" to see such numbers turning out to welcome the team home.
"We are home in our pitch, in the capital of hurling, which is Thurles," he said to the ecstatic fans.
He paid tribute to the players, coaching staff, volunteers and everyone involved with the team, as well as the delighted supporters.
"You have no idea how much it means to us when the match is in the melting pot, and to hear you roar. This is for you, the people of Tipperary, and we're all in this together."
Once the formalities were over it was into the darkening night for the medal-winning hurlers, their families and friends, ready for the next stage on their odyssey, to Brendan Maher's home town of Borrisoleigh, before the traditional visits to schools and clubs the length and breadth of the county in the coming weeks.