SHANNON Airport’s most popular passengers on New Year’s Day were All-Ireland Champions Clare as some dedicated fans turned up to wish them bon voyage on their team holiday to the US and Mexico.
Some 300 Banner supporters grabbed photos and autographs as the 80 strong party arrived for the 1.30 p.m. departure to Cancun, Mexico, via Boston.
Manager Davy Fitzgerald, with McCarthy Cup in hand, was first to walk through the doors and, more than three months after they claimed the county’s fourth All-Ireland title, was still immediately besieged by young Clare fans eager to get their photograph taken with him. Fitzgerald ensured his young charges were at Shannon early to ensure no fan was left disappointed.
There was even a pleasant surprise for the manager himself as among those who stood in for a photo with him and the McCarthy Cup was none other than one of Ireland’s most successful music stars Dolores O’Riordan, fresh from her performance on New Year’s Eve at the opening of Limerick National City of Culture.
As for the holiday itself, Fitzgerald said he could not wait to get on board. “We are so looking forward to this, you could not believe it. The lads have put in an absolutely massive year for their county and they so deserve this break,” said the Clare manager.
“They have put smiles on so many people’s faces this year and the Clare people have responded brilliantly by helping us to fund raise for this trip. It’s fantastic to see so many fans turning up this morning at Shannon Airport but I’m not surprised. They love their hurling here in Clare and clearly love their hurlers as well.”
The team departed at 1.30 p.m. from Shannon for Boston. They will return via New York where a reception will be hosted for them by the Clare Supporters Club.
Looking beyond the well-earned trip and to the season ahead, Davy said: “We have a long year before us and every other county out there will be looking to take the McCarthy Cup off us so God knows we’ll need the rest.
“Hurling fans have just had an incredible year but I think 2014 could be every bit as good. If anything Clare has shown that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Other teams will have taken heart form this and it can only be good for the game.
“There’s a lot of great talent out there in hurling counties but irrespective of who comes out of it, hurling will be the winner. But for now, we’re looking forward to the break and will get stuck into training again when we return.”
Shannon Airport put its best foot forward for the local heroes as it laid on music – fiddlers, a harpist and accordion player – refreshments and even Clare cup-cakes for the holiday-makers. It added to the celebratory mood at the airport which was today enjoying the first anniversary of its own independence.
Welcoming the group to the airport Shannon Group plc CEO Neil Pakey said: “Having Davy, the Clare team and the McCarthy Cup flying out of Shannon is a great way to celebrate the first anniversary of our independence.
“One of the very special aspects of the GAA is the interaction between players and their supporters. It’s evident again here this morning; it’s New Year’s Day and yet we have hundreds of young Clare fans turning up just to get their photograph with their heroes. It’s brilliant that they can do that and even better that the players never disappoint.”