A mile the far side of Johnstown, they slowed down to pass a spillage. The rainbow colours of an oil slick spread across the dual carriageway: an arc of colour to welcome the visitors. The paths along Dame Street would say goodbye in all shades of kebab come teatime. The inbound traffic was a stream of green as fathers and sons and sons of sons all packed hopeful into cars made the last leg of their journey. Skodas and Saabs and Nissan Qashqais ferried Limerick people towards the capital. They had waited 45 years for the day. They were rightfully, high as kites.
Pajo Hayes sat in the front of his daughter’s Avensis and sang Where the River Shannon flows for the third time. He’d sang it on loop since the far side of Newbridge and still managed to hold every note. His son sat behind him, his knee hopping in tune, willing away all traces of a hangover and cursing the black pudding that was repeating. The whole of Limerick had been in Nancy’s till all hours. It was like a Heineken Cup Final. And sure why wouldn’t they? 45 years is a fair bit of thirst.
‘Anyone got any Rennies?’ Pa Junior asked.
‘Sure a pint’ll set you right soon,’ came the father’s wisdom. He was never one for the tablets himself.
‘It’s the black stuff has me this way’.
‘It is aye,’ quipped his father ‘that pudding on your breakfast roll.’
The three laughed then hired up an interview with Eamonn Rea on the radio. A car hooted, they hooted back. It looked like the Clancys from Dooradoyle. Rea spoke of the last time they’d hoisted Liam McCarthy and of the fond memories he had of that day. He told of how that win was one of the most treasured memories in his family. Pajo nodded regularly at everything he said. Pa Junior suppressed a belch and felt tears well up in his eyes. His sister drove on, hairs standing on her arms, afraid to say out loud that today could be the day.
It didn’t matter that the Mater Hospital car park charged an arm and a leg for the parking, that was the closest they’d get to Croke Park and with Pajo’s hip the way it was, Mary was happy to pay the premium. In with them to The Big Tree for a few. Then a few more. Then one or two for the road. And it may have been the Guinness, or it may have been the wait, but that walk up Jones’s Road was something else. Big occasions are big occasions, but whatever was in the air, Pa Junior felt it right to link his father from they turned at Gills till they got to the turnstile. Pajo looked up to the tangle of bars that reach into the sky from the stadium and the pride glowed on his face. He nodded and his son nodded and they smiled with tears in their eyes.
‘We’re going to do it,’ they said in unison.
‘We are,’ said Mary, who was a step behind them.
And into Croke Park they went, and the rest is history.