There may have been disappointment on the pitch in Croke Park on Sunday afternoon but it certainly wasn’t showing in the stands in Nowlan Park on Monday evening as fans in their thousands filled Ardán de Grás to welcome home their hurling heroes.
Following a replay of the match on the big screens along with live music from The Kilkenny’s, it wasn’t long before the stands erupted at the sight of the open top bus arriving to the back of the old stand, followed by player introductions from Kilkenny GAA chairman Ned Quinn and an address from senior hurling manager Brian Cody.
“We’ve been priveleged to come back here 8 times in the last 10 years with the MacCarthy Cup. Tonight, we’re coming back without the MacCarthy Cup and that’s very, very disappointing for everybody”, began Cody.
Tipperary were the better team yesterday and as Ned (Quinn) said, the better team always wins on the day – that’s reality, and that’s sport.
A large part of the homecoming celebrations is giving an opportunity for youngsters in schools and clubs to see the Kilkenny team up close and experience that match atmosphere where they may not have had the chance to get to Croke Park or experience it before.
As he has in previous years, Cody recognised that it’s thanks in no small part to the contribution of parents, schools and clubs around the county that his current players are where they are today.
“When they were youngsters, they got their hurley and sliotar and they went out and played the game. And they were helped and encouraged by their parents, teachers, coaches and people in the clubs.
It’s because there are so many terrific people through Kilkenny in schools and in clubs, and the work that’s being done in every club in the county is magnificent really.
The future of the game of hurling is secure in our county here in Kilkenny and it’s so important that the love of the game and these children are given the opportunity to play the game and love the game, become good it it, ambitious at it.
These lads behind me are massively disappointed tonight but they have given so much to the game, their families, to their clubs, to themselves and to everybody right throughout the county in the way they’ve played the game.
While Liam MacCarthy’s arrival in Tipperary for the first time in six years was being celebrated an hour up the road, Cody paid compliment to the supporters who had turned out in their thousands to welcome the team home in defeat.
Everybody has been rightly very, very proud of what they’ve done over the years when they have been successful but the great thing is, tonight, coming back here to Kilkenny is that they knew the supporters who are real supporters would be here tonight to welcome them back and to day ‘well done – we’re as proud of ye in defeat as we are in victory’.
The last time we came back here after losing an All-Ireland final was in 2010 and the players were certainly encouraged by the support they received that night and by the enormity of this crowd that came out to welcome them. They were encouraged, driven and resolved that night to go ahead and make sure that the following year, 12 months later, that they would be doing the utmost to get back here with the MacCarthy Cup and they did it for the following two years.
Every player up here behind me is a proud, serious, ambitious hurler and I can tell you one thing – the players will be absolutely doing everything possible to ensure that they will be as competitive as is humanly possible in the determination and the challenge that faces them in the coming year to try and get that cup back here again.
Any lingering air of disappointment was washed away with a rousing rendition from players, management and packed stands of the Rose of Mooncoin to close out the proceedings.
While the future of hurling may well be safe in Kilkenny the current crop of senior hurlers are set to return to their clubs for the windup of the league and beginning of the club championship season.
As with every passing of a championship year, what happens next remains a mystery – for now anyway. Will we see more new faces joining the ranks a la Kevin Kelly and Liam Blanchfield as championship contenders? Will we see retirements and departures at different levels? Has Kilkenny senior hurling hit a ‘watershed’ moment as was referenced in the programme notes on Sunday? We shall see…