Within the hour, cars rolled through the St John’s Park gates in single file – delivering O’Loughlins finest for the fray. Money exchanged hands and before we knew it, the towns of Ballyragget, Durrow and Borris-in-Ossory had slipped quietly from our peripheral view. The motorway guided us towards a detour of Limerick via the Shannon Tunnel. Only days before, the wind had ripped the roof off the stanchions of the old stand in Nowlan Park. We wondered was a similar fate about to befall the tunnel; from the screams that greeted our bus’s entrance into its gaping mouth: AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! went the roar, but the tunnel managed to stay intact!
The lovely folk of Corofin waited loyally at their grounds for our arrival. No task was too big or too small for them – this reporter was even aided by several Clare Roses with the thankless task of filling the teams’ water bottles. Two matches were played side by side and our boys acquitted themselves well throughout. Given that training for the U12’s had been severely curtailed due to the recent inclement weather, it was remarkable to see the amount of blocking, hooking, pure striking and clean catching by the boys from the Continent in both games. There was also a degree of honesty in their endeavour, and we came away secure in the knowledge that good things lie ahead for our U12 team.
The boys then piled in to Corofin’s splendid hall, to be fed on a diet of buns and crisps and coke. The mentors were grateful for the lovingly made freshly cut sandwiches. The only time this reporter could recall having tasted as good - was back in St John’s Park! Bernard Madigan (team mentor) called for silence and thanked O’Loughlin Gaels for making the journey down and wished us well on our trip to Cusack Park as well as the journey home. Nigel Leydon then addressed the crowd and reminded all of a “mad” prediction made at the corresponding fixture last year – that Clare would be crowned All-Ireland Champions in 2013.
Noel (driver) then steadily pointed the bus in the direction of Ennis and we set off for the final leg of our outbound journey – Cusack Park. The match was played with a ferocious intensity we are unaccustomed to in the month of February. Our own Mark Kelly was unlucky not to bag two goals but was rewarded for his efforts with a penalty, midway through the second half. Kilkenny battled to a one point defeat at the hands of the All-Ireland Champions and the famous Clare roar could be heard reverberating around the antiquated stands – at the final whistle.
After a quick Pat O’Grady headcount; our boys trooped single file to the front door of Supermacs. The staff were courteous under pressure and before long we were seated and tucking into much needed grub. John Comerford, Damien Dowling, Declan Murphy and Mikey Ibrahim opted for snack boxes – good call! Ryan Corcoran, Jack Brennan, Jake Hickey and Nick Mullins asked for mighty meals for mighty men – dead right too! Harry Bland, Chase Leefarr, Morgan Leefarr and Aidan Kenny liked the look of those mega burgers – Mega! Robbie Kenny, Joe Brennan, Sean Lawlor and Alex Molloy were on the trail of the doner kebab – compliments to the chef! James Phelan, John McNamara, Mikey Wallace and Gregg Edogun went for the auld reliable – chicken nuggets and chips!
Joseph Leydon, Ronan Lavelle, Vincent O’Grady and Harry O’Grady nailed their colours to the smokey bacon mast! Finally – the savagely hungry Luke Hennessy, John McKinley, James McKinley and Sam O’Connell had no option but to plump for the lunch box!
Tired and battle weary – our boys resumed their seats on the bus for the long journey home. Day fell into night and this time; all that rolled by our windows – was the dark night sky. Texts were sent to expectant parents regarding the estimated time of arrival and steadily, Noel steered the bus towards its intended Kilkenny target. Special mention should go to two very important fans, who made the journey all the way down to Corofin - to support their team. Beibhinn Mullins and Niall Kenny were exemplary in the way they behaved and as a club; we were delighted to have them on board.
Twelve hours after those alarm calls – the bus finally pulled through the gates of St John’s Park. Our team members were delivered safely into the arms of those who know and love them most. As a club, we too were safe in the knowledge that our players would soon be tucked in and ready to resume those dreams of All-Ireland glory. Dream on wee men and promise to stay dreaming. We promise in return to tread softly, so as not to tread on your dreams.