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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Tipperary hurlers homecoming: The two Liams get  heroes' welcome

Joy: 30,000 in Thurles to support All-Ireland champs Tipp

Happy: Tipp fans Gavin Lynch and son Gavin Jnr, from Roscrea, at the Tipperary homecoming in Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photos: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Happy: Tipp fans Gavin Lynch and son Gavin Jnr, from Roscrea, at the Tipperary homecoming in Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photos: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Ralph Riegel at Semple Stadium

The roar of welcome for Liam in Thurles could have been heard as far south as the Galtee Mountains.

But while the Liam MacCarthy Cup will always be a venerated resident of the 'Home of Hurling', the true adulation of the crowd was reserved for a different Liam - Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy.

Noel McGrath, Séamus Callanan and Pádraic Maher were all cheered to the echo as almost 30,000 blue-and-gold-clad fans wildly celebrated one of the greatest days of their modern hurling history.

Goalkeeper Brian Hogan was hailed as loudly as his father Ken was back in 1989 and 1991 when his All-Ireland-winning Tipp teams arrived back in triumph at Semple Stadium.

There were huge cheers for Patrick 'Bonner' Maher whose cruel knee injury earlier this season had some fans fearing the worst in terms of its affect on their All-Ireland hopes. But for Tipp hurling fans, it was the Portroe manager as much as the players who deserved the plaudits.

The cheers were to ensure he now stays firmly in place with his coaching team to oversee a period of Tipp dominance of the sport not witnessed since the famous 'Hell's Kitchen' era of the 1960s.

Premier County fans revelled in the fact they boast the most potent forward line in hurling - and backs worthy of the mantle of those 'Hell's Kitchen' stars who defined their era.

"The man's a genius - an absolute genius," Pad Ryan from Ballyporeen said.

Tipp supporters enjoying the celebrations. Photos: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Tipp supporters enjoying the celebrations. Photos: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"To come back after nine years and help Tipp win another All-Ireland is unbelievable. He's like Moses and the Messiah rolled into one."

Mary Dunne, from Clonmel, said that while the players deserve huge credit, it was the manner in which Sheedy galvanised the panel that left Premier hurling fans in awe.

Niamh (7), Kate (8) and Anna Flanagan (5) at Semple Stadium. Photos: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Niamh (7), Kate (8) and Anna Flanagan (5) at Semple Stadium. Photos: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"To beat Kilkenny by 14 points in an All-Ireland final is an unbelievable achievement. They should now be well able to win two, three or more All-Irelands over the coming years."

But Sheedy modestly insisted the focus should be on the players.

"This is a wonderful team. This journey for us started in November," he said. "They say in life memory is everything - and I believe everyone on the panel will cherish the memories they have from last November right through to tonight, August 19.

"Days like yesterday are very special. But tonight is very special for another reason - out there looking up at this stage are young boys and girls who have big dreams of being up here some day.

"Hopefully, we will awaken a dream in them and they will fall in love with the game of hurling or the game of football."

Team captain Callanan - nicknamed the 'Goal Machine' in his native Ragg, near Thurles - paid tribute to the incredible support the team has enjoyed.

"It is an absolute privilege for me to be here to talk on behalf of all the lads," he told a packed Semple Stadium. "Tipp fans were the 16th man in the pitch last Sunday. Times like these don't come around too often. Back in 2010 everyone thought it would be year after year. We can't say it will definitely happen again next year but we can promise you that we will do our very best."

An estimated 30,000 fans roared on the hurlers' homecoming in the stadium and there was no dampening the party atmosphere from Thurles to Nenagh and Clonmel to Cashel.

Liberty Square, where the GAA itself was founded in 1884, was a sea of blue and gold as fans gathered to welcome home their heroes.

Pat Maher had travelled to Thurles from Carrick-on-Suir for the celebration. The town made national headlines for its incredible devotion this season to the Tipp hurling cause.

"That'll keep the Cats quiet for a while," Pat smiled as he said everyone in Carrick-on-Suir was anticipating months of discomfort for their black and amber neighbours.

Irish Independent

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