SOUTH Galway was well represented on this year’s All-Ireland minor hurling title winning panel and it represented itself well for the team’s homecoming too.
Despite the miserable weather, hundreds of people ranging from infant to octogenarian, stood in Gort’s Square on Monday night to welcome back their triumphant heroes.
From half seven, they trickled onto the street, seeking shelter in doorways and under umbrellas and as dusk fell on the town, the stream of people had swelled to more than 1,500.
Like many others present, Phil Madden has no connections with the players on the team. She stood in the rain to honour their achievement and that of the management team.
“It is brilliant to win another minor title,” she said, “Mattie Murphy is great. He is so successful in his training.”
Bernie Connolly had a more personal interest in enduring the elements. She had travelled to Dublin the day before to watch the game so coming a short distance into The Square was a small task by comparison.
“My nephew is the captain. I’m very proud of him; all the family are,” she beamed.
Bernie, of course, did not come alone and was accompanied by seven-year-old Chloe. “He is a nice cousin,” she revealed about Richie Cummins, the team’s revered captain.
So what was the basis for such a conclusion? “He makes me laugh,” she answered.
Chloe admitted that she was very proud of Richie and his achievement and said that she even watched the whole match.
Richie’s Flagmount cousins Jack, Seamus and Patrick O’Donnell, ranging in age from three to six, as well as another cousin Leona McCarthy and Richie’s very proud aunt Lorraine O’Donnell were also happy to endure the cold in anticipation of the raising of the Irish Press Cup.
At 7.40pm, a cheer went up. The noise from beneath the maroon and white bunting surged. Children screamed in anticipation, women giggled, horns were blown, flags were waved, cameras flashed as the coach, with its lightly tinted windows, pulled up comparatively quietly.
While Mundy sang about a Galway Girl, the young Galway men stepped onto the wet ground of Gort’s Square. They wore dark grey suits and striped ties, but it was their shirts of symbolic maroon that stood out. When Richie Cummins carrying his prize stepped up onto the stage, the screams and roars erupted.
Mattie Murphy’s success speaks for itself and so he slipped the attention onto his young charges.
“It is truly wonderful to be back in Gort with the All-Ireland trophy and more so because, this year, we had a captain who was a true leader on and off the field,” he said to a rapturous crowd.
Indeed he had encouraging words for the other Gort panel members Jason Grealish, Albert Mullins and Gerard O’Donoghue. He also had encouraging words for the crowd, who he said was the biggest homecoming he had seen in the town in 37 years.
When he took the microphone, Richie Cummins let loose the crowd pleasers.
“It makes me proud to be a Gort man tonight to be honest about it,” he said after he had passed the trophy to young Barry Dermot Murphy, himself an important member of the setup acting as mascot for the team.
He paid a particular tribute to the families of the panel members who had worked hard to ensure each attended training and matches and who had encouraged and supported the players.
“This All-Ireland probably means more to my ol’ lad than it does to anyone else,” he laughed.
For Mattie Murphy’s grandchildren, themselves future minor champions perhaps, it was a special night too. Indeed one could be heard assuring the crowd “we’d hammer Kilkenny too”.
The joy evident on each of the faces in The Square dwindled as Gort Club chairman Martin Kerins juxtaposed the experiences of the families of the young men who had stepped onto Croke Park on Sunday with that of one Galway family.
He offered his sympathies and those of the club to the family of 18-year-old jockey Jamie Kyne, who died in an apartment block fire in the UK in the early hours of Saturday morning.
As the official ceremony came to an end, those on the stage descended the ladder but didn’t necessarily come down to earth.
For team captain Richie Cummins, he was instantly surrounded by well-wishers. He autographed hurls, sleeves, notebooks, bandanas, anything that was put before him by the gangs of wrapped-up children who swarmed him.
“This is unbelievable,” he said, while being patted on the back and congratulated by one man, while simultaneously being tapped on the arm by another. More stood in small packs ready to pounce, to congratulate him and to pose with him for photos.
“I never expected this many people from Gort to be here. I wouldn’t be from anywhere else tonight,” Richie smiled.
Gort residents were smiling too. The town boasted the manager Mattie Murphy as well as the captain, alongside his teammates Jason Grealish, Albert Mullins and Ger O’Donoghue.
Not to be out-done, neighbouring St Thomas’s also sent four forward to meet the Cats on Sunday. James Regan, Conor Cooney, Patrick Skehill and Cathal Burke all donned the maroon and white to represent their county.
Craughwell had two representatives on the panel, Mark Horan and Cathal Greaney, with Ardrahan, Ballinderreen and Tommy Larkins each owning a single club man in the Galway colours, Cormac Diviney, Kevin Lane and David Hickey respectively.