Kilkenny hurlers given heroes' welcome by 15,000 supporters

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‘It’s all a bit of a dream’, ten-time All-Ireland medal winner Henry Shefflin tells crowd.

Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

GAA All-Ireland hurling champions Kilkenny make their way to Nowlan Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ten times now in the age of Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny have made triumphant homecomings such as the one which brought over 15,000 of their devoted supporters onto the streets and into their headquarters yesterday evening.

But if other hurling counties are wondering if they’ve had enough, if that black-and-amber hunger has been sated: forget about it. Standing on the stage of Nowlan Park in Kilkenny in front of a huge crowd of fans, Brian Cody paid tribute to “King” Henry who has won an unprecedented 10 All-Ireland senior medals, but warned of more to come.

“It’s tempting to say it [winning 10 All-Ireland medals] will never be done again, but already there are players queuing up behind him to make sure it will be done again, in the very very near future.”

Team captain Brendan Maher addresses Tipperary supporters at Semple Stadium, Thurles.‘Devastated’ Tipperary team already thinking of 2015
Kilkenny’s TJ Reid scores past Cathal Barrett, James Barry and goalkeeper Darren Gleeson of Tipperary but the goal was disallowed. Photograph: James Crombie/InphoPower and the glory go to Kilkenny
Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea attempts to get his message across. Photograph: James Crombie/InphoFerocious and formidable, Eamon O’Shea tips his hat to Kilkenny

It was the culmination of an evening of celebration which began shortly after 4pm when a JJ Kavanagh bus arrived in the Marble City with the players who had done the business for Kilkenny once again. In the city’s Castle Park, captain Lester Ryan, the Liam McCarthy Cup and the rest of the players and management team made the quick switchover to an open-top bus for the epic journey through the historic streets of Kilkenny.

Time only for a few quick photographs, a few autographs, few greetings with family members and friends and, for Brian Cody, a word with former veteran TD Seamus Pattison who had been waiting patiently for the team to arrive. “Two freemen of the city,” as more than one bystander put it.

Henry Shefflin himself confessed it was “all a bit of a dream” but “brilliant” to be back on home ground after yet another big September weekend in Dublin. “It’s a great feeling.”

Later in the evening there were more than a few laughs when local man Conor O’Dwyer appeared wearing a remarkably-similar Henry “head,” prompting the other players to start snapping pictures of the “two Henrys”.

Cheers resounded along the narrow roads of the city centre as the bus, preceded by another bus carrying the All-Ireland minor champions, made its way to Nowlan Park, via The Parade, Rose Inn Street and John Street.

After a couple of speeches from politicians, including mayor of Kilkenny Andrew McGuinness, introductions were made of Kilkenny’s camogie teams who lost out narrowly in their All-Irelands; the minor hurling team and even the Keep Kilkenny Beautiful people who helped oversee the city’s recent victory in the Tidy Towns awards.

But the main business of the evening started when county board chairman Ned Quinn began the introductions of the players and management, one by one, starting with Lester Ryan and the trophy. Unsurprisingly, the thousands shouted longest and loudest for that man Shefflin and, backstage as he waited his turn with his selectors, even Brian Cody got in on the “Henry, Henry, Henry” act.

The manager was last to be roared onto the stage and, when the cheers died down, he said it was a “great day for Kilkenny” and thanked all of the supporters for their contribution to the county’s success over the years. After being knocked out by Cork last year without even playing in Croke Park, Kilkenny were “very very much outsiders for this year’s championship,” Brian Cody said, while he felt they didn’t get enough credit for their role in the classic drawn final with Tipperary three weeks ago.

No matter now, as they are once again the team to beat and in the young faces of the fans who watched and cheered yesterday evening, the seeds of future success have already been sown. In the meantime, unusually late in September thanks to that replay, they can relax and enjoy the celebrations and start plotting for 2015. And they will. “It shortens the winter a bit,” as Cody puts it.

Kilkenny’s Lester Ryan lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Conor Dwyer dressed as Henry Shefflin at the Kilkenny team’s homecomingcelebrations. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Fans celebrate as the team bus passes through the streets of Kilkenny. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho



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