All-conquering Tribeswomen reward the faith of their youngest fan
He cheered on the Galway camogie team from his hospital bed and even offered some pointers to the captain, so it was only fitting that GAA fan Darragh Ruygers was the first young patient at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin to lift the O'Duffy Cup yesterday.
Darragh (12) is a neighbour of Galway captain Sarah Dervan in their home parish of Mullagh.
And Sarah made a bee-line for the young supporter when the team paid the traditional visit to the hospital on the morning after their All-Ireland camogie win.
Draped in a Galway flag, the young supporter sent Sarah a video message before Sunday's big game, wishing her the best of luck. To express her gratitude, the All-Ireland champ gave Darragh the honour of being the first young patient at the hospital to hold the coveted O'Duffy Cup.
"Darragh really gave me the extra motivation I needed on Sunday, and I wanted to do him proud," she said.
"He told me we'd better win and that he'd be in Crumlin waiting for me and the rest of the girls - he even gave me a few pointers.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling to be in this position and to be able to put a smile on all these kids' faces.
"They're going through so much and it would be incredible if our presence helps them to forget about their illness, if even just for a short while."
Darragh, who is a star member of Mullagh GAA, told the Irish Independent that he was very excited to watch the Galway girls defeat Kilkenny on Sunday.
"I couldn't make it to the match because of my leg, but I was cheering them on from the hospital," he said.
"I always knew that they would win and am so happy that they came out to visit us before travelling back to Galway."
The team's visit couldn't have come at a better time for Co Waterford patient Mary Rose O'Connell (12), who was about to undergo a spinal procedure that morning.
"They're just brilliant, I love everything about them," she said.
With the team's All-Ireland win is safely in the bag, goalkeeper Sarah Healy (19) said she was now looking forward to starting her first year in college.
The Loughrea native admitted that studying for her Leaving Cert while training for the biggest game of her life was a huge challenge.
However, she said her GAA club was more than accommodating at giving her the time she needed to focus on her exams.
"Thankfully, it was no big deal whatsoever," she said.
"They were very understanding when I needed to take two weeks off from training, but at the same time, I'm glad I didn't give up hurling altogether for the year.
"Everyone needs a break from the books now and again, and without a proper outlet to de-stress, you would just burn out."
"I'm now looking forward to my first year at GMIT in Galway, where I will study sports science," she added.
Meanwhile, hundreds of supporters lined the roads in the parish of Mullagh in east Galway to welcome home the victorious team.
The Galway cavalcade had earlier crossed the Shannon on the outskirts of Athlone, where the cup was walked from Leinster into the province of Connacht.
As the squad neared Cappataggle - vice-captain Caitriona Cormican's home club - the celebratory bonfires grew more frequent and the numbers out to welcome them home became evident.
"It's just magical. It's something to dream of coming back to Cappy with the All-Ireland," said Caitriona. "My dreams have come true here now today.
"The crowds that have turned out are unbelievable. Even in my own village of Aughrim, at the top of my road, my neighbour Mrs Fahy, she's 94 and she came out.
"There was bonfires lit, it was just absolutely lovely."
Crowds also gathered at Mullagh GAA Club to welcome the squad.