Down GAA team given heroes’ welcomed home
Their All-Ireland adventure may have ended in disappointment but the Down GAA team still received a heroes’ welcome as they returned to the county last night.
Hundreds of fans gave the players rapturous applause as they crossed the border following their narrow loss to Cork.
And while the party may have been missing one notable guest — with Sam Maguire returning to Leeside for a seventh time — it wasn’t going to spoil the atmosphere too much.
A sea of red and black greeted the players, with fans waving flags, banners and scarves as they stepped off the coach in Newry.
Cork beat Down by just one point in Sunday's showpiece match at Croke Park.
It was the first time the Mournemen had ever lost a senior final — they had won all five deciders since their first appearance 50 years ago.
Speaking in Newry, Down forward Daniel Hughes paid tribute to the fans.
“The supporters have been fantastic all year and this is really about them,” he said.
“We are devastated — we thought we would win it.
“It's the toughest place I've been in my career and somewhere that I don't want to be again.
“A point defeat is devastating any time, but particularly in an All-Ireland final.
“However, we didn't expect to be here at the start of the year and a bit of pride has been brought into the jersey.”
Last night’s homecoming event was followed by stop-offs in towns and villages across the county, including Mayobridge, Hilltown and Kilcoo.
The team then pulled into Castlewellan to another heroes’ welcome shortly after 9pm, with the finale at Longstone, the home club of team captain Ambrose Rogers.
On Sunday night the players and fans attended an after-match banquet at the City West Hotel in Dublin, as thousands of disappointed supporters made the long journey home.
Meanwhile, the triumphant Cork team came back to a tumultuous welcome on Leeside last night.
The city centre was in full party mode as Conor Counihan's team returned home at around 7pm for a huge open-air homecoming at Parnell Square.