Front and centre is John Hunt with, from left to right Pat, Neilus, Thady, Ed, John and Caitriona Hunt
THE Limerick senior hurlers should go “straight through to heaven” after their historic All-Ireland win, according to 98-year old John Hunt.
The proud Athea man travelled more than 3,600 km from Chicago to Croke Park to watch his beloved Limerick take on Galway.
And after witnessing their victory, he believes John Kiely’s team should be granted a special dispensation with the man above.
“Everyone of them, as far as I’m concerned, the way I feel now, everyone of those players should go straight to heaven,” John told the Limerick Leader.
“Straight through. I’ll tell you, because they have brought joy to the Limerick man all over the world. Whether he was in New York, San Francisco, Dubai, it makes no difference; they brought joy to the Limerick man. They brought more joy to me than …” John trailed off. “I haven’t got a comparison,” he laughed.
The proud Athea native, who travelled to Croke Park from his home in Chicago with his grandson Ed, made it to the front of the crowd at Colbert Station on Monday evening to welcome the victorious hurlers back to Limerick following their historic win.
“I was up at the station, watching them come in,” John said. “I felt great. I had a great character taking me into the station, a man called Garrett Hartigan from outside the city and that Garrett Hartigan was all pumped up. So with his energy, it transferred over to me, at 98 years of age, and I was ready to go through the front window!”
“They are a very good team, a very good team and when I was watching them at the station, and I’m around a long time, they looked so young to me. They did. When I watched games back in the 40s, it was a different kind of hurling,” he explained.
“You’d see Mick Mackey and these boys in my day. They were big, strong men. Big, strong men that just tore through everything. These men, these kids, were more scientific. They had more speed. They were able to get out there faster.”
“When they’d get that ball, there was no hanging around. They were three or four places in front of the corner man every time. Limerick controlled the game, up until the last four minutes,” he added.
“But I knew that they’d win. Everybody was saying Galway, Galway, Galway. I was delighted to see Galway against Limerick, over Clare or any other county. I was very happy to see them play Galway in a final because I knew that Galway were the champions.”
“They were going in with a lot of backing, but I still felt that Limerick could beat them. I felt it. Limerick had a good manager, they had a good backing, they had good everything.”
John remembers his first All Ireland well, when the Limerick hurlers were beaten by just one point.
“I watched my first All Ireland as a 15-year old,” he explained. “That’s a long time ago. It was against Kilkenny.”
“Mick Mackey and the rain coming down oh so hard that day, I’ll never forget it. I was only a young fella from Athea, going to school in Dublin but I loved the game, you see.” He carried that love with him when he left for Chicago, he added.
“I started the Limerick Hurling Club in Chicago. That was back in the 60s, maybe before. It's the only hurling club in Chicago that has its county name.”
John was also the first American GAA Board chairman and according to Chicago GAA has “dedicated his whole life” to the Gaelic Games.
“The national game of Limerick is hurling, always was,” he believes.
“I am a fella who is against this rugby or this soccer or anything else. You get a rugby or a soccer player and put them with the likes of the young fellas from the Gaeltacht who’ll come out kicking a football or the young fellas from Pallasgreen and Na Piarsaigh who’ll come out hurling. What better sport for a fella like me then the national games of Ireland.”
He is still elated with the win, he adds. “It will take me a few days to get over this win because I’m at 98-years of age, I’m 99 next birthday, a few months shy of 100 really. I’m down in Ballybunion now and I’m good.”
John watched the 1973 final with his wife and son and 45 years later returned with his grandson.
“My grandkids take great care of me. They’re good to me, God bless them,” he smiled.