Paul Kimmage: 'You've no idea what this means to Limerick people' - these days I do
Not since Down won their first senior football crown in 1960 has Croke Park witnessed such scenes of overflowing enthusiasm as those seen at headquarters yesterday afternoon when Eamonn Grimes raised the Liam MacCarthy trophy high in triumph after Limerick had beaten the holders, Kilkenny, by 1-21 (24) to 1-14 (17) to win their first All Ireland Senior Hurling title in 33 years.
The fair-haired Limerick captain had to be rescued by Gardaí and assisted to the dressing room after he had been overcome with the back-slapping and pressure from the excited Limerick supporters, who formed a solid phalanx in front of the Hogan Stand. They seemed oblivious of the pouring rain as they continued to chant 'Limerick, Limerick, Limerick' long after the president of the GAA, Dr Donal Keenan, had made the presentation of the Cup.
Irish Independent, Monday, September 3, 1973
It felt like one of those golden moments perfected by Sean Connery during his time as James Bond. We hadn't slept with Pussy Galore and weren't nestled on her pillow with a post-coital smoke but the expression was the same: "Jaysus! That was great."
Limerick were through to the All-Ireland final. A pulsating battle with Cork had been won in extra time and triggered scenes of spontaneous joy all over the ground. Exhausted players hugged on the pitch and embraced the cheer of the fans; Linger by The Cranberries boomed from the public address so I lingered for a while, thinking of Pat O'Grady and where we had sat in '73.
We were 11 years old that summer. O'Grady was a 'country Dub' - the son of a Limerick man - and we had met as classmates at St David's in Artane. I'd never been to Croke Park before, and didn't play Gaelic games, but had been convinced by O'Grady there was good money to be made selling programmes on the day.
The bonus was a ticket to the final.
What if every moment of your life was recorded? What if you could rewind the video and watch it all again? I've often wondered what that Sunday in Hell would look like because that's always how it's felt looking back: the rain hammering down; the clothes soaked to my skin; the bundle of programmes swinging from my arm; the gasp from O'Grady when I delivered my returns."
"What? You didn't sell one!"
I'd never seen so many culchies before. They streamed past me in droves into the Hogan Stand and cursed like rabid dogs when the game began. I don't remember much of it and couldn't wait for it to end but O'Grady's joy has always stayed with me. "You've no idea what this means to Limerick people," he said.
That was true.
Ireland was a terrifying place back then. A copy of the Sunday Independent cost 5p and carried ads for 'Hair Rental' ('Why pay more than £200 for an ordinary hairpiece?'), body building ('Muscles Make a Man') and an apology from CWD Morgan, the managing director of a cigarette company.
"We are sorry that Gold Bond are still in short supply. We appreciate that this is causing inconvenience and disappointment to smokers and to customers. We have been able to increase production during the past week but we are still not meeting demand . . . We must, therefore, once again ask for your patience while we build up our resources. We will keep you informed of progress."
There were five pages of sport - an eclectic mix that included a short preview of the All-Ireland final ('Limerick Must Be Worried'), a Johnny Giles column bemoaning the surfeit of soccer in England, a Jim Lydon column slamming the absence of a Mayo team from the national finals of the Community Games ('This is a disgrace'), a great round by Ray Quilligan - a 14-handicapper from Howth - in the 'Sunday Independent Golf Contest' and an extraordinary appeal ('Did you find it?') from the sports editor: "In congratulating his county-men on their victory over Offaly in the All-Ireland senior football semi-final at Croke Park on August 12, a Galway-born priest, who was bound for the Philippine islands the next day, lost a gold cuff-link with an All-Ireland medal emblem, on the playing pitch. It is of great sentimental value and he is hoping that it may have been found. The sports editor of the Sunday Independent will be delighted to return the cuff-link to the owner if it is left at Independent House."
The Cranberries have finished singing. I sit for a while watching the crowd disperse and take a lift to the bottom floor and the Wall of Fame near reception where the champions are listed. An old George Meredith quote comes to mind: "Don't just count your years, make your years count", which is fine unless you're from Limerick of course, and every passing summer drives a stake through your heart:
2017 Galway, 2016 Tipperary, 2015 Kilkenny, 2014 Kilkenny, 2013 Clare, 2012 Kilkenny, 2011 Kilkenny, 2010 Tipperary, 2009 Kilkenny, 2008 Kilkenny, 2007 Kilkenny, 2006 Kilkenny, 2005 Cork, 2004 Cork, 2003 Kilkenny, 2002 Kilkenny, 2001 Tipperary.
2000 Kilkenny, 1999 Cork, 1998 Offaly, 1997 Clare, 1996 Wexford, 1995 Clare, 1994 Offaly, 1993 Kilkenny, 1992 Kilkenny, 1991 Tipperary, 1990 Cork, 1989 Tipperary, 1988 Galway, 1987 Galway, 1986 Cork, 1985 Offaly, 1984 Cork, 1983 Kilkenny, 1982 Kilkenny, 1981 Offaly.
1980 Galway, 1979 Kilkenny, 1978 Cork, 1977 Cork, 1976 Cork, 1975 Kilkenny, 1974 Kilkenny, 1973 Limerick.
I head for the door and cross my fingers for O'Grady: 'This could be the year'.
Sunday Indo Sport