Newly crowned WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee received a hero's welcome as he raised his world title belt aloft on arrival at Shannon Airport.
Lee has long since stated his desire to one-day stand on the steps of an aircraft at Shannon and raise a world title belt over his head and that special moment dawned today.
Lee was greeted at the foot of the aircraft by and embraced his mother Ann - his father Tom having already travelled over to London to meet him following Andy’s flight there on Monday from LA – in what was an emotional reunion for both.
Said Andy: “It’s a dream come true to be back here in Shannon. I’ve always had this dream to be standing here with a world title belt and it’s almost surreal now it’s happened.
“To see all the media, all the fans here. It’s incredible.”
Andy’s mother said she could now finally believe it’s true. “It was no bluff when he said that he wanted to come back to Shannon as World Champion. That’s what he dreamed of and he’s achieved it. We go on to Limerick from here for a civic reception. It’s unbelievable. I’m so proud.”
Speaking after the Castleconnell, Limerick man, who beat Russia’s Matt Korobov on a 6th round TKO for the vacant WBO World middleweight title at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas last Saturday, greeted the hundreds of ecstatic fans who swarmed him as he stepped out into the arrivals area, Shannon Airport CEO Neil Pakey said it was another remarkable moment at Shannon.
“I read on Monday that Andy said that it was always his dream to step off a plane at Shannon Airport with a world title belt but today the privilege is all ours,” he said.
“Shannon Airport has had some of the biggest names in global sport through its doors. Only last weekend we had the proud Munster rugby squad fly out of here for their Clermont game and we had champion jockey Ruby Walsh here a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had top international footballers, golfers and plenty of our own GAA stars.
“It’s great to be so closely associated with the brilliant sports stars of the region. But I think all of them would tip their hats to Andy for what he achieved at the weekend. He was the complete underdog and no Irish boxer since 1934 has won a title on American soil.”
Roisin Glasheen from Caherdavin, who was present with her four year-old son Shay, was the first fan to greet Lee. “I came out to Shannon early to be at the top of the queue and it worked. I got him to sign a Limerick flag and we got a photo with him and Shay got to hold the title belt in it. It’s more than I could have imagined. I could cry right now.”
After meeting fans, Andy left for Limerick for a pre-arranged 3p.m. press conference and civic reception.
Airport CEO Neil Pakey added: “A great thing about Andy, and something we have found out for ourselves today, is that he is a true gent of a really tough sport. I have heard many people talk about their delight that he won this not only for his boxing skills but because he is one of the real good guys of the sport.
“His homecoming today is a very proud moment for Shannon. It was particularly emotional to see him reunited with his mother Anne here as well. It was one of the great moments we’ve seen here and at airports you get many. This region is his home and he is proud of it and the region is incredibly proud of him.”