Kilmallock and Limerick players Paddy O’Loughlin, Graeme Mulcahy, Barry Hennessy and Oisin O’Reilly with Mossy Dowling, All-Ireland winner in 1973, at the homecoming Picture: Marie Keating
THEY stood, men and women, children, toddlers and even pet dogs at the crossroads of Munster, the medieval walled town of Kilmallock, in anticipation of the arrival of the newly-crowned hurling kings of Ireland.
A roaring garda siren signalled their close proximity, a flashing blue light bouncing off windows on Sarsfield Street indicated they were nearer again, but it wasn’t until the MacCarthy Cup came into full focus, that the party truly began on Friday night.
“Welcome to the All-Ireland Champions 2018” screamed the banner being carried by members of the underage teams from the town who lead the way. Behind them, a white Isuzu fire brigade jeep carried the most precious cargo in the country.
Perched on the bonnet and carrying the cup was one of the four local men to bring the honours back to The Balbec, Kilmallock goalkeeper Barry Hennessy.
Beside him fellow Kilmallock man Paddy O’Loughlin. With arms wrapped around one knee he could have been at home on the sofa. Resting back on the letter E in FIRE, Paddy was the epitome of cool.
But there were two more local men unaccounted for - Graeme Mulcahy and Oisin O’Reilly. Eventually, goalscorer Graeme came into view - hanging off the passenger door wearing a Shaws jersey with collar standing to attention.
The significance of the jersey would later be revealed. As for Oisin, he was overhead on the roof fanning the flames of local pride.
The Kilmallock man gave a majestic hop, skip and a jump back at the GAA pitch punching the air with the MacCarthy Cup as the local men were introduced to the home crowd.
They lapped it up.
“Does this guy really need an introduction in the town of Kilmallock,” asked MC for the evening, Matt O’Callaghan making his way over to Graeme Mulcahy who was clad in his uncle Donal Barry’s jersey. Donal, of course, was on the panel when Limerick contested the final in 1994.
“We all grew up with massive tradition in this club, the likes of Dave Clarke, Mike Houlihan, Donal (Barry) and Paddy Kelly. I just wanted to wear this tonight because this is what I grew up with and this is why I’m here today - the tradition of this club,” he said to a rapturous applause.
And it was revealed this week that in an usual twist of faith, the Limerick corner forward lives at the same house in Kent Road, Ballyphehane, which was home to the legendary Fr Pat Barry, when he won an All-Ireland senior medal with Cork in 1976.
The Limerick star has lived in the house with his long-term partner, Laura Mellett, for the past two years. Laura is Fr Pat’s niece.
Graeme even managed to speak to Fr Pat after the match.
“We managed to ring him from the Citywest Hotel after the game and he was delighted for us,” said Graeme this week.
The Kilmallock man of course was the executor of a goal and two points from play, including his team’s last point, a crucial one in the end.
“I got very lucky - it just seemed to keep coming in front of me. We applauded the heavens a few minutes ago and I’m telling you, there was certainly somebody looking down on me, helping me get that over on Sunday,” he told the crowd.
Moments earlier the players and supporters had engaged in a minute of applause rather than silence to remember all those the town has lost but were very much in people’s minds.
Among those introduced to the crowd were scorer of the goal in the 1973 final Kilmallock’s Mossy Dowling, life president of Kilmallock GAA club Jimmy Millea, and secretary of Limerick County Board, Mike O’Riordan, also from Kilmallock.
And it wouldn’t be a celebration without a sing-song which was lead firstly by Oisin O’Reilly who had the crowd rocking with his rendition of folk song The Transit Van; and then local hurling legend Bernie Savage who had the crowd singing along to his note-perfect rendition of Sean South of Garryowen.
With the speeches over it was time to mingle.
Armed with markers and pens, supporters made there way to the side gate where they waited in turn to greet their hurlers - the superstars you can touch.
Two hours later the last man standing closed the gate and made his way home under the dusking sky cloaking the ancient medieval town, now home to four modern-day heroes.