An Unforgettable Journey

Three years on from our club’s greatest achievement the following is a behind the scenes view of what happened on that unforgettable weekend.

Saturday, 9.00am, the 16th February 2008. A bright fresh morning, but no one felt the chill; there was a buzz in the air. It was the eve of the All-Ireland final and the day we were to head to Dublin for what was to be the biggest match in our club’s history.

In the weeks following our semi-final triumph, you could sense the excitement mounting in the village and it was a relief to be finally setting off on this unpredictable journey, full of nervous expectation, with the will to do well but not knowing what the outcome might be.

Before boarding the bus we had to call to Supervalu to collect the now obligatory sandwiches which we have given to the players on their previous trips to Castlebar and Limerick. All was ready and waiting for us, the shopping trolley was filled with nutri- grain bars, jaffa cakes, bananas and energy drinks. The tray of fifty odd sandwiches was added and all transferred over to the car park at An Furan. 

A nice gathering of well-wishers, both family and team supporters had turned out to see us off. As Martin Faherty pulled out of the car park the cheers went up and we were on our way to Ceannt Station.

The lads all had a comment about the flags and bunting in the village and as we passed the many messages of support from neighbouring clubs there was the usual light remark, the Fahertys and Rob Molloy got stick about the signs from their school, the Clooniff lads got stick as well. Moycullen Hurling Club, Basketball Club and Angling Club, Oughterard, Killanin, Michael Breathnachs, Barna Furbo hurling and Barna football, St Micheals, Leitirmór and Clonbur were all represented and this added to the excitement and the feeling that we were embarking on something special.

Martin Maloney was the last man to board the bus at Clooniff, shrugging his shoulders he growled “cows have to be milked you know” which got a great cheer.

Iarnród Éireann pulled out all the stops and gave us royal treatment, TV crews and photographers were on hand to record the team’s departure. Myles McHugh of Irish Rail and all his team did everything possible for us.

You could see the excitement rising as we commenced our journey, players slagging each other in a good-humoured way, playing cards to pass the time. I can’t tell you what the game was but the roars when a trick was won made time pass quickly. Philip Lydon seemed to win the game although all the lads said he was cheating. The famous sandwiches got a sudden end as they were devoured by the players as the nerves set in.

We arrived in Dublin, bang on time. A bus awaited and we were whisked off to Croke Park for a tour of the facilities. John Leonard, a native of Ahascragh is Chief Steward in Croke Park and he brought us through the dressing rooms, the warm-up area and then out onto the hallowed ground that is Croke Park. He showed us the “Ali tunnel” so-called after the great boxer Mohamed Ali. We were all awestruck by the imposing sight of the Cusack and Hogan Stands and the general atmosphere of the whole place.

We then went onto The Citywest Hotel where we were to stay for the night. Our arrival coincided with the arrival of the Tyrone team- The Rock, which was to play in the Junior final the next day. Again everything went smoothly, we booked in en bloc and everyone was in their room inside twenty minutes.

Many of the players watched Man United V Arsenal in the FA Cup before gathering for dinner followed by a team meeting.

Sunday morning arrived, the players and management arrived at breakfast, and everyone seemed to have had a good night’s sleep with not too many nerves apparent.

Fr McLoughlin arrived shortly before 11.00am to say a special Mass for the players. He spoke briefly to the lads and wished them well in the hours ahead.

We had a bit of time to kill before departing for Croke Park and got the players a light meal. The Garda Traffic Corps gave our bus an escort from the hotel to the stadium, and what a trip it was. The three Garda motorbikes would take it in turn to race ahead and block junctions to ensure a smooth passage, there was no such thing as a red light, we passed through the light no matter what the colour. We were escorted up on the wrong side of the roads and whizzed past Dublin traffic as if it weren’t there. Everyone on the bus got a great buzz out of this and the humour was added to by the running commentary of our driver Sean Higgins, a native of Cong in Mayo.

We arrived outside Croke Park 35 minutes after leaving the hotel, it took nearly as long again to negotiate the last few hundred yards, but eventually, we were in the dressing rooms and prepared for the big test ahead.

What happened on the field over the following hours has been well reported elsewhere but suffice to say that when we boarded that bus to take us back to Heuston Station at 6.25pm that evening we were all “over the moon”. The trip to the train station was just as funny with Eric Fox’s colleagues from Mountjoy station giving us an escort, we set off with sirens blazing and everyone straining to look out the windows as we whizzed along, 12 minutes later we were in Hueston.

The Return Home

Hundreds of Moycullen supporters were there before us and we were welcomed off the bus with resounding cheers. The train eventually set off on our journey home, there were one or two delays but I don’t think anyone cared or noticed such was the good humour and high spirits. The strains of The Fields Of Athenry, Peigín Letir Mór, Galway Bay and the Galway Shawl echoed all along the tracks from Dublin to Galway- the west was awake or should I say Moycullen was certainly awake.

Slightly later than planned we arrived, the team and officials stayed behind for a few minutes to allow the supporters to get out ahead of us and prepare a homecoming, and what a homecoming it proved to be.

The first bonfire was at the Westwood hotel, our neighbours in St Michaels greeted us with fires and cheers, Keleghans was festooned with green and white flags and cars queued up both in front and behind to announce our arrival with Garda sirens and car horns blaring.

We stopped at Oranswell, Woodstock, Corcullen and Tooreeny where we were greeted with roars of excitement. I will show my bias by giving a special mention to Clooniff where the whole team disembarked and the three lads from Clooniff were hoisted shoulder high to display the cup, the two-goal hero Conor Bohan, Martin Maloney our mid-field man and Evan Gibbons a substitute all received great ovations.

We pressed on toward Moycullen, there was a big gang at Uggool to greet Toby, Sean and Gareth Brashaw. As we came into Moycullen and looked out the front window of the bus I couldn’t believe the crowds that awaited our arrival. Before our final stop we went out to Baile Nua where again we got a great reception for Colie Gavin Senior and junior, Tomás Higgins man of the match, the Fahertys, Brian and James, and one of the biggest cheers for our Bannisteoir Sean O’Dea.

We turned back to Moycullen and as we turned up by The Forge the cheers went skywards. At a conservative estimate, 2500 people young and old awaited the return of their heroes. Gearóid Clancy, the team captain led us off, cup in hand to a bedlam of noise and cheers.

O’Tooles had kindly provided a stage and Pete Fox the sound system for what was for me the end of a truly unforgettable journey.

Many people have played their part in this great achievement both on the field and in the logistics of getting our team and supporters to and from Dublin safely, but two people, in particular, deserve special mention, Máirtín Clancy and Micheal Darcy who did so much, thank you both for arranging what was for me the journey of a lifetime!

To the players and team management, also a big thank you, you could not meet a nicer group of lads, and without them, we would not have been going anywhere.


Sean Gibbons