BLAZING bonfires, blaring garda car sirens and a Mercedes convertible - it was all in a day’s work for the Limerick camogie team who received the VIP treatment this week having been crowned All-Ireland Intermediate champions.
Captain Fiona Hickey of the Granagh-Ballingarry club climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand in Croke Park to lift the winning trophy on Sunday afternoon - making amends for their final loss 12 months ago when they were beaten narrowly by Galway.
By Tuesday afternoon, the victorious team had watched the memorable win over Kilkenny, not once, not twice, but three times in Pat Collins’ Bar in Adare.
“It is kind of sinking in now,” smiled Fiona, still recovering from the rapturous welcome home the team received on Monday evening.
Fiona, along with the vice-captain, Sile Moynihan, and team manager, Joe Quaid, were treated to a garda escort into Adare in a Mercedes convertible courtesy of Davy Mann of Rathkeale. “There was an amazing atmosphere when we arrived with the cup. Everyone was cheering us on in the cars. Some of the Limerick hurlers came out to see us which was class because we would have so much respect for them - it was lovely to see it reciprocated,” said Fiona.
The champions then tucked into a meal in Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel, who sponsor the team.
“The Woodlands were amazing to us. I can’t speak highly enough of Conor Fitzgerald. We felt like professionals and that is huge for camogie players because the hurlers will always get that,” said Fiona.
Following the celebrations in Adare, the team then travelled by bus to Fiona’s club, Granagh-Ballingarry, where they were greeted by a blazing bonfire at Chawke’s Cross in Granagh.
“I had a flashback because we won an U14 Feile in 1999 and there was a bonfire in the exact same place, so it was emotional,” Fiona recalled.
The celebrations continued atop a podium where the team and supporters joined in a rousing rendition of Limerick You’re a Lady.
Fiona said she couldn’t be happier or more proud of her teammates who have made huge sacrifices and dedicated much of their lives to the game they love.
“Claire Mulcahy is working in Dublin and she would be down in Rathkeale on a Wednesday night for training and home for the weekend on a Friday. It’s a lot of effort,” Fiona noted. “I’m teaching in Cork myself so I’m sick of the sight of the N20,” she smiled, adding that “It’s all worth it now - we have really reaped the rewards.
“We are all so close and there is such a great bond between us all after the last two years especially.”
Recalling the last few moments of the game, Fiona said the five point cushion gave them a chance to savour the atmosphere.
“It was such a lovely luxury to have. With two or three minutes to go, I saw Sarah Carey smiling, I was nearly crying. Obviously we were still focused on the game but we had that luxury of having them points up. It was such a difference compared to last year.”
Fiona, who is the daughter of Tom and Anne Hickey and has one sister Emer, who won a junior All-Ireland medal this year, and has two brothers Brian and Stephen - said that accepting the All-Ireland trophy on the steps of the Hogan was beyond her wildest dreams.
“I never in a million years thought I would have that honour - it was just amazing. It’s such a boost, and to see the young players there - they idolise us which is so lovely.
“The amount of autographs and selfies I have taken over the last few days has been just something else.”
The team enjoyed Sunday night in the Red Cow Moran Hotel in Dublin, owned by Athea native, Tom Moran.
“Tom Moran has been so good to us. He put us up the Saturday and the Sunday night. It was a luxury to be able to get up and go to Mass on Sunday morning compared to last year when there was some girls up at 6am packing their bag to get ready to go to Croke Park that day. This year we could just focus on the game.”
See page 21 of Leader 2 for more homecoming pictures