Tipperary pride has the flag flying on the road to Croker
Published 05/09/2014 | 02:30
Councillor Jim Ryan was walking through Thurles town centre just over a week ago when he noticed that - despite the march of the Tipperary hurlers towards yet another All-Ireland final in Croke Park - there wasn't a scrap of blue-and-gold bunting in sight on Liberty Square. So he contacted the county council, only to be informed that there were no funds to decorate the heartland of hurling - and the venue for the team's triumphant homecoming, should the Premier County quell the Kilkenny Cats on Sunday.
So the Independent councillor swung into action; through Tipp FM and social media, he launched an appeal for bunting. "I was absolutely thrilled with the response. Nearly 30 volunteers turned up in the Square and we got fantastic sponsorship from local business people and we put the bunting up in a couple of hours, and now the place is awash with colour. It's the way it should be for an All-Ireland," said Jim. "Now all we need is the Liam McCarthy to come home."
On one side of a bustling Liberty Square a large banner wishing the team good luck hangs over the front facade of Hayes Hotel, the hallowed spot where the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded by Michael Cusack in 1884. But the hotel went into receivership last year, and is due to go under the hammer at auction later this month and Jim, along with many locals, is anxious that its important link to the GAA be preserved. "It's absolutely important that whoever buys the hotel will keep that tradition, heritage and culture," he said. "My first preference is that the GAA would buy it and turn it into the Mecca of hurling".
But it's not just in Thurles that community spirit is in evidence, but across the county. The village of Borrisoleigh, proud home of Tipperary captain Brendan Maher, are hoping that the local hero will bring home the cup for the first time since 2010. On the outskirts of the village, motorists are greeted by a feisty road-sign showing a mocked-up picture of Kilkenny's legendary hurling manager dousing himself with a bucket of ice alongside the declaration: 'The Ice Bucket Challenge Is The Only Thing Brian Cody Will Be Lifting Over His Head This Year'.
Club team-mate Benny Harkin is hoping for victory. "After hurling so well against Cork, and dominating, I think we definitely have a chance. And with Brendan as captain it's exceptional to be there, I can't wait for Sunday," he said.
This was echoed by local butcher Joey O'Dwyer. "There's great excitement and great banter going on when Kilkenny men come into the shop," he explained.
However, nowhere is the buzz of anticipation louder than in the housing estate of Kennedy Park in Roscrea. Despite not having anyone from the area on this Tipp team, the residents have put in a huge effort to transform their neighbourhood into a sea of blue and gold. On the main road, the proprietor of The Auburn Lounge, James Ryan, has a decorated car on display proclaiming: 'We Stopped the Drive for 5. Henry's 10 To Be Denied' - a fighting reference to Kilkenny King Henry Shefflin's hopes of nabbing a 10th winner's medal.
On the estate, a group of lads have spent two weeks climbing ladders and fixing bunting, teddies and flags to roofs and walls and windows over 200 houses. "It's a great buzz and shows the huge level of community spirit here," said one of the organisers, Neil Conlon. "We decorated a car as well - there were three teddy bear cats stuck to the car's grille and hanging over the roof. But they somehow disappeared," he said.
Shane Lee, a member of the local resident's association, agreed that the atmosphere on the estate was fantastic. "Everyone came together and chipped in so we could buy flags and bunting, and we're still putting some up at this stage. It's the first year we've done this on such a scale, and we've had a huge reaction from people driving past."