|40,000 welcome "Sam" back to Leeside - Monday, September 20, 2010
|An estimated crowd of between 30,000 and 40,000 welcomed an absent friend back to Leeside on Monday night.
‘Sam’ kept his fans waiting, as the Cork team bus was over an hour late pulling into the South Mall, where hordes of red-clad supporters had lined the city’s streets and waited patiently since the early evening to catch a glimpse of the star of the show.
And just after 8.35pm, Cork captain Graham Canty emerged on the specially-erected stage clutching the Holy Grail of Gaelic Football.
Typically, the squad and the Rebels’ backroom team were first out on stage, before Bantry man Canty’s entrance was greeted with a roar not heard in Cork in 20 years, when Sam Maguire last spent the year by the Lee.
Canty and manager Conor Counihan addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support.
"Twenty years is a long time to be waiting so it's very emotional for everyone," Counihan said. "A lot of work by a lot of people down through the years made this happen and it is great to see this team get their reward."
Daniel Goulding, the man of the match in the 0-16 to 0-15 win over Down, admitted it was a massive relief to win an All-Ireland after two unsuccessful attempts in the last three years.
“It’s a sense of relief more than anything,” said Goulding, who pitched in with a stunning 0-9 haul. “We had three hard years and there were 40 or 50 lads involved. I suppose at the end of it, the support we got was brilliant.
“We are all good friends and we have soldiered together for a long time. It’s just a great way to end things.”
The county’s Minor team, beaten narrowly by Tyrone in the curtain raiser, were also led by their manager Brian Cuthbert onto the stage.
Those in the know reckoned it was one of the biggest homecoming parties for an All-Ireland winning team ever seen in Cork, with the crowd stretching all the way back to St Patrick’s Bridge, which spans the famous Lee.
Not since Cork’s footballers completed a unique double in 1990 have the Cork public come out in such numbers to greet their sporting heroes.
Speakers, including the Lord Mayor Mick O’Connell and Cork County Board Chairman Gerry O’Sullivan, paid tribute to the team’s character and expressed their gratitude to the players.
Fittingly, the formalities ended with compere Billa O’Connell leading the crowd in a rendition of the Cork anthem ‘The Banks’.
The team broke with tradition and travelled home from Dublin by bus, crossing into Rebel territory at Kilbehenny on the Cork-Limerick-Tipperary border after 8.00pm, before ‘Sam’ journeyed through the Jack Lynch Tunnel for the first time ever and then moved on into the city centre.
Canty will lead the team back to his home town Bantry, the heartland of Cork football, on Tuesday night.