Shane Dowling had promised himself that he would make the most of Limerick’s celebrations. After watching one of his closest friends, Declan Hannon, lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup, and having had a go of it himself, it was back to the dressing-room.
For what would be the final time, this panel of players could sit together as team-mates. To a man, they had each realised a lifetime’s ambition. The remainder of their days would be lived as All-Ireland winners.
“I’d always wondered what it must be like in the dressing-room after winning an All-Ireland,” Dowling admitted, every player acutely aware of the effort that has been put in to get there. The reality surprised him.
“I just remember sitting there thinking, ‘God, this is not what I had thought it would be’,” he recalled. “It is, literally, just fellas sitting down drinking cans and listening to a bit of music.”
As the commotion of bodies in and out of the room continued, his mind drifted off beyond the four walls. “I couldn’t help thinking to myself that while we were here chilling out, what the hell must be going on down in Limerick.
“All I wanted to do was split myself up into 10 and be in loads of different places experiencing what was going on.”
He surely wasn’t alone. No sooner had Sean South and The Cranberries entered the musical rotation, things became a bit wound up again. The outside world couldn’t be kept at bay for long, though.
He nipped off at one point to the bathroom for a bit of quiet. Though they had spoken only a short while ago on the sideline, he wanted to touch base with his parents again. Despite this glorious conclusion, it had been a difficult year. When he struggled with the setback of being dropped, they struggled with him.
Although Dowling didn’t rate his own performance in the final too highly, he had still scored another goal coming off the bench. To whatever extent he hurled for himself, Dowling got a great kick out of what it meant for his family.
Before Galway almost mounted a successful comeback, that goal had appeared to be the winning of the game. A quick call to fill them in on the latest and he was back again. The arrival of JP McManus into the dressing-room captured the magnitude of their achievement once more.
“It was a very special moment,” he remembered of McManus’s quiet — and Dowling suspects reluctant — arrival. “He is who he is, he has what he has… but, at the end of the day, he is the man who has backed Limerick hurling for a very long time.”
Dowling’s phone rarely left his hand throughout the celebrations. “I took a load of videos and photos,” he recalled, “for no other reason than I wanted to have them for the memories.”
Before he took the time to back them up (and send them all on to his mother’s phone, just in case), these memories turned his phone into a prized possession.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘God help anyone who tries to steal it’,” he said now with a laugh, the retribution awaiting any such attempt no joke all the same. “They mean a lot to me.”
His determination to chronicle the celebrations seems a bit prophetic in hindsight. Almost a year after Limerick’s All-Ireland win, Dowling picked up an innocuous enough knee injury in a club game against Adare.
The situation deteriorated and he soon had to come to terms with a reality that no longer involved this Limerick team. At 27, he wasn’t really sure if he would ever hurl again. For one who embraced so heartily what John Kiely, his backroom team and the players had created together, the devastation is permanent.
Tradition dictated what would happen next as Limerick eventually left their dressing-room in Croke Park. The usual banquet and post-match traditions would play out in the Citywest Hotel later that night.
The triumphant journey home to the waiting crowds would follow. Generations of Limerick hurlers had looked on and wondered what this might be like to no avail. The county’s supporters had been equally envious, as seemingly everyone else but them got to experience it at least once.
Dowling hadn’t forgotten the sting of both sensations. As he headed for the bus that would carry them through streets still thronged with the green of Limerick jerseys and flags, he spotted the Liam MacCarthy Cup just sitting on the dashboard.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he explained, the sight of the trophy taking him back to a time when playing for Limerick was still just a dream. “We were coming home from some All-Ireland final when I was just a young lad and I remember spotting the winning county’s bus getting the Garda escort out of the stadium.
“I just looked at them wondering what it must be like.” All those years later, he found out. He even has the pictures to prove it.