Heroes return to Cat-calls of 'gimme five'
After Fab Four, the fans eye next title
JADED by success? Sated by four titles in four Septembers, seven in a decade? Bored by triumphant homecomings? Get real.
The tens of thousands of black-and-amber clothed fans lining the streets of the Marble City, from McDonagh Station right up to the Market Yard, quickly disabused any doubters who may have wondered if the novelty has been extinguished.
Just like three-in-a-row was a new experience last year for hurling's monarchs, so is this week's four-timer. And, judging by last night's reception for Brian Cody's incomparable band of brothers, the appetite for an unprecedented fifth title will be even greater when summer 2010 rolls around.
The rest of the hurling world -- beware.
The cheers rang around the medieval streets and alleyways just as loud last night as they did in 2006, or 2000, or after any of the previous 31 All- Ireland successes of hurling's most decorated county.
With every year it gets no easier for Cody and whatever captain has just had the honour of lifting the McCarthy Cup to lead their men from the railway station back to the city centre for the official homecoming.
Last night, the crowds were just as fanatical as the players disembarked the train at McDonagh Station following yet another successful raid on the capital. This year's was more smash-and-grab than before -- and perhaps all the more special for that.
Just after 6pm the Liam McCarthy Express arrived, accompanied by the sound of cannon fire. The players were cheered to the grey skies, as photos were taken, autographs were signed and friends and loved ones greeted.
"It's great to be home, back to our own people," said star scorer Henry Shefflin, as his 17-month-old daughter Sadhbh looked on.
"She doesn't know what's going on but, please God, in years to come she'll remember it."
Manager Brian Cody described the homecoming as "one of the highlights" of the All-Ireland experience and hailed the turnout across the city and county, even after so much glory during this most glorious of Kilkenny decades.
As the open-top bus snaked its way across the city centre towards the Market Yard for a civic reception hosted by Mayor Malcolm Noonan, the names of the players were chanted, along with "four-in-a-row", "simply the best", among other slogans.
A plea by a caller to local radio KCLR for the event to be "politician-free" went, unsurprisingly, unheeded.
Local councillors welcomed the players in their official robes, but they were nonetheless a sideline rather than the main event on this occasion as it proved all about the hurling.
One by one the players were introduced and, yet again, cheered long and loud, with the biggest roars reserved for the likes of goalkeeper PJ Ryan, whose saves kept them in the final, and captain Michael Fennelly.
Once more the 'Rose of Mooncoin' rang around the Market Yard before the players departed the public stage for their traditional celebration meal in Langton's Hotel, while supporters talked on the streets, in the public houses and on their way home about next year and five in a row.
Nothing will get in their way, it seems. "We hurl and we pray," said one interested observer. "That's what it's all about."
All-Ireland final reaction, comment and analysis: sport, pages 77 to 79