Victorious Kilkenny Cats return with a much-loved friend
Rapturous reception as heroes bring the cup home
Kilkenny hurling fans got back what they missed most last night with the return of the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
There were school-going children in Kilkenny who never knew what it was like to see their county lose on All-Ireland final day until last year.
But the good times are rolling again -- and, at least for now, the Marble City knows not to take winning for granted.
Even the dogs on the street were decked out in the black and amber for Liam's homecoming last night with one border collie called Scottie following the bus draped in a flag.
As Brian Cody stepped off the platform at McDonagh Station with his army of extraordinary hurlers, he was already thinking about the next campaign.
"The months will pass by and next year will be here. They will just go and play hurling, that is what they do," he told the Irish Independent.
Before joining the team on an open-top bus to do a tour of the city, Cody revealed how beating Tipperary in the All-Ireland was "majestic".
"Cats cheer, we're gonna bring the Liam MacCarthy home this year," was the mantra from the teenagers who danced for joy.
At the stage erected in the Market Yard for the homecoming heroes, an exuberant John Mulhall, who came on in the final as a substitute, soon had the microphone in his hand to sing a song he had written for the occasion.
"Now we've taken back our throne . . . Tipperary pog mo thoin . . . the Liam MacCarthy's coming home," he roared before being hushed by his teammates.
There is no monarchy in Kilkenny but they still have a 'King' -- and the locals went wild for Henry Shefflin -- who signed hurleys and posed for pictures with his son, Henry Jnr, before joining his teammates on the bus.
"I'm delighted to be able to walk on the bus this year," he joked, referring to how an injury had left him on crutches this time last year.
The players looked fresh-faced and relaxed despite celebrating their victory into the early hours of yesterday in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin, where entire parishes greeted their heroes after their Croke Park win.
In recent years, the team has swapped more formal attire for a smart casual look to meet the fans. Nobody sponsors the hurlers but "off their own bat" they choose crisp blue-and-white striped shirts, blue jeans and blazers for their look.
Chairman of the Kilkenny County Board, Paul Kinsella, laughed off suggestions that the team had a stylist.
"Given that most of us don't wear suits, we decided to go with this," he explained.
Some of the lucky children on the bus with the players included JJ Delaney's nephew, Evan Jones, who was accompanied by JJ's sister, Deirdre.
"We're so proud of JJ," she said. "Sure how could you not be? They're a great bunch of lads."
The bus made its way from the train station to the Market Yard, where crowds had gathered in the rain for up to four hours before their arrival.
Outside Billy Byrne's on John Street, there were a few punters who hadn't joined the masses for the speeches but opted to stay put after the bus passed by. Hurling was still on their minds though, with one repeating how relieved he was because of the win. "I was sure Tipp had us before the game, I was starting to believe the hype," he said.
At the Market Yard, team captain Brian Hogan was soon on his feet to tell a captive audience about how the team returned from Croke Park last year "having lost something very important to us".
"There's one thing we don't do and that's losing," he said.
"Thankfully, we got back there and we got what we missed most and that was Liam MacCarthy," he added.
In his address, Cody reminded the Kilkenny supporters of the importance of savouring the low moments and not taking the wins for granted -- to ensure "the good times will roll".
"Young people see these hurlers as their heroes and we want to see them getting out their hurleys and wanting to be the next Tommy Walsh," the prolific manager said to cheers.
As the night wore on, the crowds showed no signs of going home. Youngsters were hitting sliotars off the wall at John's Green. "The Cats are back," they hummed.