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The Donegal gathering: fans flock home to give All-Ireland stars heroes' welcome

By Greg Harkin

A sea of gold and green greeted the All-Ireland heroes as they swept in to be welcomed by 20,000 adoring fans in Donegal town last night.

Jim McGuinness and his team were cheered into the Diamond to shouts of "Jimmy, Jimmy" from fans, many of whom had waited in the pouring rain for four hours.

And the noise reached a deafening pitch when singer Rory Gallagher sang his football anthem 'Jimmy's Winning Matches', with captain Michael Murphy and the players singing along.

"This is what it's all about," said the proud manager.

Donegal's greatest ambassador, Daniel O'Donnell, made a special trip home for the event after revealing he almost missed the game.

"I was due to fly to North Dakota in America on Saturday morning and when I got to Dublin Airport there was a six-hour delay announced," said the singer.

"I just thought, 'right I'm staying', and I managed to get a ticket for Croke Park and re-arranged my flight for Tuesday.

"I missed the 1992 homecoming, so I'm delighted to be home for this one. It's incredible," he added.

Gardai had to seal off the town from 4pm, such was the interest in the homecoming parade, which was organised by the local Four Masters club.

Earlier the team carried the Sam Maguire back into Donegal for only the second time, passing over the bridge from Kesh in Co Fermanagh into Pettigo.

So concerned was the County Board with directing fans to Donegal town, they tried to keep the Pettigo stopover a secret.

But that didn't work.

More than 3,000 people lined the streets in driving rain to cheer the moment when McGuinness and his captain Murphy got off the team bus and walked across the border from Co Fermanagh into Co Donegal just after 8pm.

The boss climbed on the back of a lorry with his team as Murphy sang a rendition of 'Jimmy's Winning Matches'.

And then Jimmy told the crowd: "To cross over that bridge tonight with the Sam Maguire back here into Donegal is something which will live on in the memories of me and these players for the rest of our lives."

And to cheers he added: "People are saying we don't have the hunger to do this again but these boys are hungry for more.

"Kilkenny are there every year and they show that hunger and these boys, who are all decent, hard-working people, have that hunger."

Star forward Colm McFadden said: "This is just incredible. It's just so hard to describe this feeling."

Triona Britton, who helps run the family pub in Pettigo, told the Irish Independent: "I can't begin to tell you how much this means to us here in Donegal.

"There was a local in here at the final whistle. He had a hip replacement last year and he was dancing around the bar so well, he could get a gig with Riverdance.

"Talk of the recession is banned until Christmas -- and into next year if we can get away with it."

Rita Gallagher (80) had waved off the team to Dublin last week from her home, the last house in the county before Fermanagh.

Last night, she was standing in the rain to welcome them home again.

"I remember 1992 very well and I never thought I'd see this again so I am so happy for Pettigo and for Donegal. It's just fantastic for everyone because it means so much," she said.

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