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Sunday 17 December 2017

Memorable night as camogie team returns

ANNE MARIE O'CONNOR

THE STRAINS of Lady Ga Ga boomed into the night sky, revving up the gathering crowd. But this wasn't a night for poker faces.

This was a celebration of girl power of a different kind – Lady GAA GAA.

As Wexford's senior and intermediate camogie players did their county proud on the pitch of Croke Park on Sunday afternoon, Monday night became Wexford town's opportunity to return the compliment.

And bedecked in the purple and gold, over ten thousand excited supporters ignored the autumn chills to swarm Wexford Quay and cheer on their sliothar smashing superstars. The sense of pride was palpable. From the youngster carrying a duvet-sized purple and gold chequered flag and, to the more sedately dressed but equally beaming pensioners, it was evident that this was a special and memorable night.

The girls of Wexford were coming home, and restoring to the county a sense of achievement – a sense of worth. Recession gloom was banished. For the first time in a long while, Wexford had good reason to dance at the crossroads.

And dance they did. They waved their flags, they whooped and cheered. They boogied along as the song as the Black Eyed Peas blared over the tannoy. Tonight WAS going to be a good night. We were 'Simply the Best'. We are the champions, my friends.

It was a magnificent turn out. Undeterred by the downturn in the weather, the Wexford fans wanted to fly their flags. Even the lateness of the hour failed to dampen spirits.

The girls were due to arrive on Wexford Quays at 8 p.m. – but celebrations further up the county delayed their triumphant return and it was closer to 9.30 p.m. when the opentopped bus snaked its way around Redmond Square and onto the Quay.

It was a moment that evoked several tears along with cheers.

Pride is a very strong emotion, and Wexford fans weren't afraid to let their hearts burst and joyous tears fall as the jubilant team held the O'Duffy Cup aloft.

The girls were in fine form. 'Championes, championes, Olé, Olé, Olé' was screamed from the top of the double decker, as the two teams and their mentors jigged up and down with excitement.

As these camogie heroes were photographed by hundreds of cameraflashing fans, they in equal measure took pictures and cam-recordings of the crowd. This incredible homecoming was something that these girls wanted to savour. A moment they would carry with them forever. Mags D'Arcy's brother Michael led the singing on the stage as the girls took to the podium. Flags were waved vigorously and the crowd sang 'Loch Garman Abú' It wasn't a night for lengthy speeches. Mayor of Wexford Joe Ryan gave a multi-lingual welcome, praising the players and speaking of the pride the fans had in their achievement. 'Wexford people know that they can be the best in the country. You proved them right,' he said to triumphant cheers. Both teams, the winning seniors and the narrowly defeated intermediate players were introduced one by one to the crowd. Each girl, and their mentors JJ Doyle and Karen Barnes, received an individual cheer. The crowd were hoarse from the yelling. It was a heart-warming homecoming – something which team manager JJ Doyle said would inspire them to continue at the top of their game, and would encourage them to bring home the silverware again next year, and the next. By 10 p.m. it was time for the crowd to disperse. It was a school night, after all, and plenty of overexcited children wandered home with their Wexford flags on their shoulders. You can be sure as they settled down to sleep, their dreams were filled with purple and gold.

The celebrations will continue for the AllIreland camogie team for the remainder of the week. Last night (Tuesday), there were celebrations at the GAA grounds in Oulart when the Leacy sisters returned home with the O'Duffy Cup, while a civic reception is planned in New Ross tonight (Wednesday).

School visits are also planned for the week as well. Yesterday, Tuesday, the victors visited schools in Enniscorthy, while they're due in Rathgarogue and Cushinstown today, Wednesday. Tomorrow, Thursday, they visit schools in Gorey.

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