Kiely’s army given a hero’s welcome at Limerick homecoming celebrations

Captains Cian Lynch and Declan Hannon raise the Liam MacCarthy Cup at Monday's homecoming celebrations. Photo: Brian Arthur.

AS THE CLOCK struck six on Monday evening, a sea of green and white washed through Pery Square in Limerick City, an expectant mass waiting for their heroes to return victorious from battle.

And to the victors went the spoils. An estimated 15,000 turned out, a perfect portrait right outside the Limerick City Gallery of Art, to welcome John Kiely’s army after their All-Ireland victory over the Kilkenny Cats.

Young and old roared together as one as captains Cian Lynch and Declan Hannon brought the Liam MacCarthy Cup home to Limerick for an incredible fourth year on the trot – in doing so, writing their names in Limerick history books.

And despite a significantly lower turnout than the 90,000-strong horde at 2018’s homecoming celebrations, the cheers and rejoicing were no less loud.

Isaac Sheedy on his dad’s shoulders among a sea of supporters at Monday’s homecoming celebrations. Photo: Keith Wiseman.

“We hope to encourage each and every one of you to live your dream, just like we are. Thanks a million for everything,” captain Cian Lynch told the crowd, the jubilant 16th players on the pitch in Sunday’s 0-30 2-25 walkover of Kilkenny.

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“We are playing a sport we love, but at the end we’re a family and we stick together on the bad days and more so even the good days.”

Heroes to so many across Limerick city and county, the four-in-a-row winning team made it clear that the fans play just as crucial a role on match days as the hard-working men on the pitch, with Gearóid Hegarty confirming to RTÉ: “I’ve been saying it for the last number of years, we’re just so lucky to have the support we have in Limerick. It’s unbelievable.”

The sentiments were echoed by manager John Kiely, saying: “When we look back in years to come, I hope we realise that this is just an incredible sight and an amazing memory to have as a group. You [the fans] have been with us the whole way through, and we are appreciative of what you done for us all.”

Music across the evening was provided by local Lim-rockers Anna’s Anchor, Donegal talent Michael Maloney, and The Corner Boys, with MC duty in the capable hands of RTÉ’s Liam Ahern and Catriona Tierney.

Crowds were singing and dancing in celebration of Limerick’s historic four-in-a-row win. Photo: Brian Arthur.

“I’ve heard it said that you haven’t won an All-Ireland until you beat Kilkenny in the final. Now we have back to back wins over the Cats,” said Cllr Gerald Mitchell, Mayor of Limerick City and County.

“[This team has] lifted us out of decades of frustration and instilled a renewed sense of optimism and love for the game of hurling across the county.

“The massive crowd of supporters here tonight shows the level of respect this Limerick team has and the level of enjoyment they continue to bring to us all here in Limerick. Congratulations to all the Limerick panel and management on your continued success. Luimneach Abú”

Seamus McNamara, Chairperson of the Limerick GAA County Board, added: “We are beyond delighted to have equalled the record of four championship wins in a row. It is a mark of the character, strength, and dedication of this side led by John Kiely.”

“The competition throughout the championship this year was fierce and that makes this victory even more satisfying. We are truly living in a golden age of hurling in Limerick.”

Cian Lynch and Declan Hannon raise the cup in front of 15,000 roaring fans. Photo: Keith Wiseman.

As the proceedings wound towards a fever pitch finish, with green and white confetti and fireworks streaking across the People’s Park backdrop, and singer Michael Maloney leading Kiely’s boys in a rendition of team-favourite ‘So What Do You Want To Know’, there was one thought shared by all in the crowd: the drive for five is on.