They didn’t have the ‘special guest’ with them but the Tipperary players received a warm and genuine welcome when they returned back to Semple Stadium on Monday night.
As manager Declan Ryan said, the ‘true’ Tipp fans were there to greet them.
And there were words of encouragement and hope from captain Eoin Kelly and County Board chairman Barry O’Brien for the fans waiting in the rain.
We are already planning for next year and we will be back, they said to acclaim.
The reception the players received was sincere and came from the heart. They were being thanked by their people for the efforts they had gone to during the year – defeat in the final, although painful and demoralising, did not diminish their standing in the eyes of Premier people. So, blue and gold flags, hats, scarves, brollies and macs were the order of the day as the colours were worn proudly in the stands and on the field. It was also an uplifting and indeed novel sight to witness throngs of kids hurling on Semple Stadium – all of them oblivious to the rain, and many oblivious to the entertainment being provided.
The players had arrived back in Thurles Railway Station from the capital and were bussed to The Dome at Semple Stadium where they enjoyed refreshments before making their way to Ardan Ui Riain to be introduced to their dedicated and loyal supporters.
Entertainment had been provided from earlier in the evening to help warm up the crowd and after the wives and girlfriends had been introduced by County Board PRO Ger Ryan, it was the turn of the players to emerge onto the specially built stage dressed casually in squad jeans and jumpers. The cheers reverberated throughout the Stadium as Board Chairman Barry O’Brien and captain Eoin Kelly led the players to take the acclaim of their people.
Barry O’Brien spoke with great pride about Tiperary hurling and thanked the Supporters Club, the clubs of the county, his fellow officers, Skoda Ireland and all supporters for their consistent loyalty to the blue and gold jersey.
In paying special tribute to Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson, Barry O’Brien added that the players had brought great pride to Tipperary in 2009 and 2010. They did so again this year, he said, and he was pleased to note that Tipperary know to accept victory and defeat with equal measures of dignity.
“We are down, but we are not out and we will be ready for action again next year. That, we promise you,” he said. “It is onward and upward for Tipperary and I can tell you all that we have started discussing next year already and are putting plans together for 2012 . We are not lying down. We will get back up again and when we do we will be ready to take on anybody,” the Fr Sheehy’s man added.
Archbishop Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly and Patron of the GAA, traditionally greets the Liam MacCarthy Cup in Thurles when the team brings home the spoils. There were to no spoils on this occasion but Archbishop Clifford predicted better days ahead for Eoin Kelly and his men. “We are all hurting at the moment, but none of us more than the players themselves,” he said.
Tipp Manager Declan Ryan greeted the “true” Tipperary supporters and informed them that it had been a long day, following on from a long night. “We just wanted to come back to Thurles but unfortunately we don’t have the one guest we wanted with us – the Liam MacCarthy Cup. I am very proud of our players and how hard they worked this year and how much pride they have shown in the blue and gold jersey. They showed great character and would you believe that they put in over 110 collective training sessions since January 13th this year. That’s phenomenal and it is my hope now that the pain will drive us all forward to help bring back the Liam MacCarthy Cup again next year,” Declan said much to the delight of those present.
Tipperary Captain Eoin Kelly was bidding to become the first Tipp man to lift successive titles back to back. But it wasn’t to be for the Mullinahone maestro who shot 0-8 from placed balls on the day against Kilkenny to bring his seasons total to 4-30. However, despite the defeat, Eoin sees positive days ahead for the Premier County and he urged supporters to keep the faith.
“It wasn’t very nice waking up this morning but there are a lot of positive days ahead for Tipperary. The hurt will drive us on and the age profile of this panel is right. We have the most positive and professional backroom team in the country and we will get it right next year,” he said to the cheers of supporters.
Vice Chairman of the County Board Sean Nugent belted out strains of Slievenamon at the end of the formalities to the delight of the supporters who joined in for the famous Tipperary anthem.
The evening ended with the players moving back to The Dome where they signed autographs, posed for photographs and enjoyed meeting their family members, clubmates, neighbours, friends and supporters. They were back amongst their own and just like returning home from hospital, the real healing could now begin.