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‘It’s a special time, unbelievable’ – crowds throng the streets to welcome home Kerry’s heroes


.Kerry and Austin Stacks player Joseph O'Connor with Sam Maguire on Denny Street.

.Kerry and Austin Stacks player Joseph O'Connor with Sam Maguire on Denny Street.

.Kerry and Austin Stacks player Joseph O'Connor with Sam Maguire on Denny Street.

One of the Kingdom’s longest runs without an All-Ireland has ended, and Tralee’s Denny Street had all the signs of it last night.

The aristocrats of Gaelic football had waited eight years to claim Sam Maguire, with plenty of heartache in between victories, before they finally managed to get over the line in a tit-for-tat battle with Galway at Croke Park
on Sunday.

If Kerry people had a habit of downplaying their excitement at All-Ireland wins past, it’s a habit they’ve kicked for now, as the celebrations were in full flow for their record 38th All-Ireland title.

There were no “yerras” this time as the latest batch of champions came home; the county is celebrating and doesn’t mind who knows.

The Kerry flags had been draped over Tralee’s best-known street since well in advance of Sunday’s decider, but by yesterday evening, the thousands of fans flanking the thoroughfare ramped
the green and gold theme to top gear.

Children clapped “22-KY-SAM” registration plates against barriers already feeling the strain. Others swung plaited green-and-gold bands above their heads.

One young man sat up on a tree in Pearse Park to gain a better view of the platform assembled in front of the Ashe Memorial Hall; another climbed the railing of the same park, maintaining his balance by holding onto a lamppost.

And all this well before the open-top bus arrived with the players they came to see.

Some went with more straightforward means of gaining a clearer vantage point, sitting on the shoulders of their parents.

Dónal Ó Muircheartaigh, from Clochán, in West Kerry, held up his two sons at once, while their sister, Róisín, got a boost from mum Mary.

“It’s their first homecoming,” Dónal told the Irish Independent.

“Conor (7) and Róisín were up at the match yesterday as well, Jack (3) is a bit too young yet,” he said. “But it’s fantastic to be here tonight.”

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If the trio’s favourite player – David Clifford, of course – and his teammates keep going as they are, Jack mightn’t have to wait too long.

DJ Big Jim reassured us over and over that the team was on its way from Castleisland, but after waiting eight years, a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt.

His eclectic playlist – jumping from Country Roads and The Wolfe Tones to Maniac 2000 and Opus – and on-stage energy did enough to keep things moving in the meantime in any event.

And then the bus arrived, with the suited-and-booted of the Kerry set-up dangling Sam Maguire over the side of the coach, prompting unrestrained cheers of joy from the thousands.

It might have even been louder than the whoops for David Clifford as the players were introduced, one by one, after they climbed onto the platform.

“It’s a special time, and to be here today and to see the crowd, it’s unbelievable,” said co-captain Seán O’Shea. “It’s so special to be part of this.”

“It’s a privilege to be here,” his co-captain and home-town lad Joe O’Connor said. “We (Austin Stacks GAA club) had a great year last year, and I got nominated (for captaincy). I’m really proud for my club for nominating me, and proud for these boys as well.”

Mayor of Tralee Cllr Mikey Sheehy said that he’d never seen a crowd like it in the town.

His father and namesake, one of the game’s greats, might be better qualified to judge on that, but somehow, it’s hard to doubt Mikey Junior.

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