Monday 17 December 2018

A roar to raise the roof as Banner welcomes its heroes home

IF THERE had been a roof over the Banner county last night, it would've lifted straight off from the moment that the two winning teams set foot on the stage in the heart of Ennis at 9.15pm.

It was a wall of noisy acclaim which greeted the minor and senior All-Ireland hurling champions when they finally materialised into the cauldron of emotion that was the Tim Smythe Park. The dark evening was illuminated by the saffron glow of over 30,000 flags whirling in the still night.

Their was music in the night. All the Clare songs had been sung over and over as the enormous crowd awaited the arrival of the teams.

And it had been a long way from the Clare border to here. Just after 4pm they had crossed into the county bearing their twin silver spoils of victory, the minor and senior All Ireland hurling trophies, most especially the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Slowly this gleaming receptacle of hopes and dreams and glory passed through one GAA stronghold after another – Cratloe, Sixmilebridge, Newmarket, Clarecastle – as the boys from the Banner county returned as heroes.

They were swamped by improbable crowds at every stop along the route. Sixmilebridge is the home patch of manager Davy Fitzgerald, and he could only stare gobsmacked at the tumultuous reception which awaited him.

Progress was leisurely, it was a long way from Clare to everywhere. Everybody wanted to share in the joy.

From early evening the crowds had streamed into the park in the heart of Ennis for the Homecoming. There were banners and flags, bunting and bugles. There was even a placard proclaiming 'Davy for Taoiseach' .

Marty Morrissey with fans at homecoming
Marty Morrissey with fans at homecoming
Some of the victorious Clare players raise the Liam McCarthy Cup
Captain Pat Donlon and Trainer Davy Fitgerald lift the Liam McCarthy Cup at the homecoming in Ennis
Trainer Davy Fitzgerald with the Liam McCarthy Cup
Davy Fitzgerald addresses the crowd at the homecoming celebrations for the Liam McCarthy Cup
The Liam McCarthy Cup is passed between players at the homecoming in Ennis
Fans show their appreciation for Shane O'Donnell
Young Clare fans in the crowd on Sunday in Ennis
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and U21 All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis yesterday
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and U21 All Ireland champions
Clare senior champions lift the Liam MCCarthy at homecoming of the senior and U21 All Ireland champions Clare in Ennis
Fans celebrate at homecoming in Ennis
Members of the Clare senior panel celebrate with the Liam McCarthy Cup
Clare senior champions lift the Liam MCCarthy at homecoming of the senior and U21 All Ireland champions Clare in Ennis
Shane O'Donnell lifts the Liam MCCarthy at homecoming
Shane O'Donnell lifts the Liam MCCarthy cup aloft
All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup on Sunday
Some of the Clare U21 panel look down at the LIam McCarthy cup after it returned to Ennis on Sunday
Fans at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans 6 wwek old Liam and his father Diarmuid Keane celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald with ten year old Aisling Keogh, from Raharney, Co. Westmeath, and the Liam MacCarthy cup on a visit by the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin
29 September 2013; Clare's Pat O'Connor with 3 month old Brian Tierney and his mother Sadie, from Thurles, Co. Tipperary, and the Liam MacCarthy cup on a visit by the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin
29 September 2013; Clare players Shane O'Donnell, left, David O'Halloran, centre, and selector Louis Mulqueen with the Liam MacCarthy cup on the team bus as they arrive for the homecoming celebrations of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions.
29 September 2013; A young Clare supporter enjoying the homecoming celebrations of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions. Tim Smythe Park, Ennis, Co. Clare. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
29 September 2013; Clare supporters enjoying the homecoming celebrations of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fan Michiela O'Donovan from Scarriff celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013
Fans celebrate at homecoming of the senior and minor All Ireland champions Clare who returned to Ennis with the Liam McCarthy Cup this evening Pic:Mark Condren 29.9.2013

It's been 13 years since Liam MacCarthy resided in Clare, and the wait had simply stoked the hunger of the hurling faithful. The roar which greeted the team must have rattled the stars. And in the middle of the maelstrom was the diminutive force-of-nature that is Davy Fitzgerald. Davy Fitz, fierce warrior of the Banner county, the generalissimo of Clare hurling who has had two Celtic crosses of his own pinned to his chest in the glory years of 1995 and 1997.

If there was perhaps one image of the team manager which summed up his pride and passion, it was the sight of Davy sinking to the ground, hunkered over in a disbelieving crouch as the final whistle blew him and his pirate-ship of young hearties into the history-books.

The Banner roar intensified as he stepped forward to the microphone to the soundtrack of 'We Are the Champions'. He stood at surveyed the scene, a hint of a smile on his face. "I knew we had passionate players but by Jesus we have passionate fans as well. We're going to enjoy ourselves, we're in Clare and the recession can go to hell," he hollered.

He looked at the lads gathered around him like a bunch of young sons. "They're my family and I love them to bits, so I do".

What a game his boys had delivered. Wise folk had warned that there was no earthly way that the replay could match the heavenly display of the first final. And they were right – it surpassed it. The skills on display by both Clare and Cork were breathtaking, the grit and determination of both teams was astonishing.

The sheer audacity and athleticism of Shane O'Donnell was the stuff of legend before the contest was even over. Three goals and three points from the 19-year old who only got two hours' notice that he was starting in the final. And just over 24 hours later, here he was on a stage in Tim Smythe Park in his hometown of Ennis, just a poc fada from his club Eire Og, as an estimate 30,000 chanted his name.

"I'm in dreamland," he had confessed in the chaotic minutes after the curtain fell on the magnificent drama of the helter-skelter final on Sunday.

It was a sentiment echoed by some of the players as they were interviewed by Marty Morrissey onstage. John Conlon talked of how raising Liam in Croker was the boyhood dream of so many of them. "You'd be out in the back garden, dreaming".

It was a dream from which there was no immediate awakening. The chants and songs which rocked the players as they grouped together on the stage on a balmy, barmy night are unlikely to fade away anytime soon.

It was an outpouring of pure joy. On a Clare day you can sing forever.

Irish Independent

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