FORTY years after Limerick claimed their last senior All-Ireland hurling final title, Pat Hartigan can still distinctly remember the pair of socks he wore on that famous day in 1973.
At the last training session before the big day, the Limerick team were presented with a set of socks – white with two green hoops on the top.
Speaking only hours after millions of euro exchanged hands as transfer deadline day came to a close for European soccer clubs, Pat recalled this week how big a deal it was back then for he and his hurling teammates to be presented with a simple pair of socks.
“These socks were very unique,” he enthuses. “We got them on the last night of training so we could try them on.”
Limerick team photographs taken on the day show all the players with the socks pulled up to their knees. “They were so nice you didn’t want to have them down around your ankles. I generally wore them around my ankles but these socks looked so modern we said we might as well maximise them.”
At that time, the players had only one jersey each. The All-Ireland final on September 2, 1973 was a very wet day but Pat doesn’t recall the players changing their jerseys at half-time. “We went out in the same wet jerseys in the second half, from my recollections.”
The South Liberties man was quite young at the time, just turned 23. It was his first time in Croke Park for an All-Ireland final.
“Once you left the hotel you said to yourself, ‘When I get back again, there is going to be widespread changes’.”
He remembers travelling down Jones Road, pulling into Croke Park and seeing the huge crowd gathered over on the Cusack Stand.
“The mass of people there was something extraordinary,” he recalls. “We had witnessed big crowds in Munster but the stadiums in Munster in those days were very open. It was a claustrophobic feel you got when you looked into Croke Park.”
Running out onto the pitch with the roar of the crowd, “you felt everybody was in on top of you.”
For teammate Eamonn Cregan, the experience was a little different. “I had gone to the bathroom and the team had gone out. The roar was over. I missed it. I missed the famous roar,” he smiles.
The whole Croke Park setting, Pat says, was very different to what the players were used to. “We were used to balls coming through the blue sky but in Croke Park you were seeing them coming out from the faces in the crowd, the stands were so high.”
He remembers their opponents, Kilkenny, as being a “very strong, powerful team”. “I cannot let this opportunity go without paying tribute to Pat Delaney, who captained Kilkenny that day. He died in recent weeks. He was a real warrior,” he adds.
Once the final whistle went, people were coming from all sides of the pitch to shoulder the players. Pat was trying to get up into the stand to meet the players for the presentation and he remembers looking down at a very loyal Limerick supporter by the name of Jim Keogh.
“Jim Keogh hurled with Limerick and had a garage in Lower Gerald Griffin Street. You are talking about a powerfully strong man with tears rolling down his face. To this day, Jim Keogh’s face, crying in front of the stand, is very much in my mind.”
For Eamonn Cregan, his abiding memory is of Eamon Grimes receiving the cup. “It was something we had all been dreaming about for years, going back to secondary school. There was nothing like it.”
While the dressing room was strictly for players and management in those days, the South Liberties boys managed to sneak in one of their own. “We spotted JP [McManus] and we got him in the window and rightly so,” says Pat. “He was chairman of South Liberties and he was the man who single-handedly, in my opinion, put South Liberties in the right direction. He was ahead of his time when it came to South Liberties and Limerick.”
After the game, Pat was asked by RTE to do an interview for Sunday Sport which would air after the evening news. “Mick Dunne was chairing it,” Pat recalls. “At that time, RTE didn’t make arrangements for you to be collected from the hotel. At about 8pm that night I said, ‘I have to go to RTE’ but I couldn’t get out of the hotel because they couldn’t open the doors to let me out – the crowd outside was so big and trying to get in. I had to go out a fire exit, got a bus into the city and got a taxi outside to Montrose.”
When he returned to the hotel, there were thousands gathered outside. The team were unwinding inside.
“Everyone was sitting down because of the exhaustion of the day. Tom Boland was a good pianist. We went into a room where there was a piano and we sang ‘til the early hours.”
The homecoming on Monday night was “phenomenal”. Pat recalls the scene coming in the Dublin Road. “Once you got to the top of the hill you could see a mass of people all the way into Limerick.
“Jed O’Dwyer’s father [John] of the Hurlers Pub was out on the road with a bonfire, and my God it was fairly blazing for us.”
From Castleconnell into Limerick city, the bus, Eamonn Cregan recalls, travelled at a snail’s pace. “We passed our house on the way in on the Dublin Road. My father [Ned] had just died the year before but my mother was there, Hannie. It was significant,” he says.
While each player has their own cherished individual memories of ’73, there is also the shared pride, and sense of achievement.
“There is always a bond there,” says Eamonn. “It will always be there, no matter what happens.”