Fans put on a brave face as Cats shown door
Inevitable finally hits invincibles as golden era comes to an end
IT IS real end-of-an-era stuff – Kilkenny go out and the king is banished. No championship visit to Croke Park for the first time since 1951.
It is the stuff of nightmares for the all-conquering Cats and their fans.
The point of no return came with the sending off of 'King' Henry Shefflin, inset, just before half-time in their era-shifting All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork.
Like the great champions that they have been, the 14 men of Brian Cody's Kilkenny battled on to the final whistle, their air of invincibility finally shredded on a tumultuous day in Thurles.
That whistle shunted Cork into a semi-final against Dublin, and Kilkenny out of the All-Ireland series before August for the first time in 17 years.
In the second game at Semple Stadium, the Banner disposed of Galway. Another shattering disappointment for the Tribesmen, but the famous Clare shout is getting louder.
The team that has lorded it for years was put to the sword, and those left standing – Cork, Clare, Dublin and Limerick – can dare to dream. But the Kilkenny fans were not hard on their heroes.
"We've been following them for years," Rachel Hogan from Danesfort said as she walked down Liberty Square with friends Claire McGrath from Kilkenny and Orla Keogh from Freshford.
"They don't owe us anything now," she added.
Noel Duggan from The Butts in Kilkenny city, where bunting has flown in recent Septembers, said fans were "disappointed for the team and for Brian Cody" but delighted with what they have achieved.
"There will never be a team in Ireland who will do what Kilkenny have done over the last seven or eight years," he said. "It eventually had to come down the tracks and today's the day it came."
Seamus Quigley from Thomastown, who is famed for his shrine of black and amber-bedecked mannequins outside his home on the eve of big games, was philosophical.
"The day was bound to happen. No one could come near Kilkenny when they were at the peak of their game," he said.
So Cody and his players headed back to Kilkenny, a city that did not know whether to mourn or continue the party begun by the other Boss on Saturday night.
Rachel, Claire and Orla knew what they'd be doing. "We're going to Bruce Springsteen!" they said.
Cork were 10-1 to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup going into yesterday's pair of quarter-finals, but by last night they were down to 5-2, with Limerick now in the unprecedented – for many years – position of being favourites.
Cork supporters headed for the motorway with renewed confidence, though Liam Hickey from Douglas had a note of warning for fellow Corkonians. "We'll see where it takes us," he said, before pointing to the strong form of their next opponents, Dublin.
The result meant Noel Callinane was heading home a happy man, even if he had to bite his tongue at times. Originally from Inagh, Co Clare, he was in his county's saffron and blue jersey but surrounded by the maroon and white of Galway, accompanied as he was by his wife, Sinead Forde, from Annaghdown, their son Ben, Sinead's brother, Jack, and Aaron, Callum and Michael Forde.
"They've been kicking our arses for the last couple of years," Noel said. Now the tables are turned.
As for the All-Ireland, he said: "I've a sneaking feeling that if Clare don't win it, Cork will."
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