Speech at a reception for the Limerick Hurling Team
Áras an Uachtaráin, Tuesday, 26th February, 2019
Mar thús ba mhaith liom fíorchaoin fáilte a fhearadh romhabh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin inniu. Is deis í an ócáid inniú dom féin agus do mo bhean chéile Saidhbhín páirt a ghlacaadh in bhur gcéiliúradh i ndiaidh corn Liam Mhic Cárthaigh a bhuachaint thar cheann mhuintir Luimní. Is ócáid í seo chun bhur n-éacht a aithint agus chomh maith le sin, chun aitheantas a thabhairt don iliomad duine a bhí páirteach sa ghaisce sin, nó a thug cúnamh daoibh le linn bhur saolta iománaíochta.
I am delighted to welcome you all to Áras an Uachtaráin to honour your magnificent achievement in winning the Liam McCarthy Cup last year.
Sabina and I are delighted to have this opportunity to personally salute your achievement and congratulate the team, your coach and manager and, by extension, acknowledge the contribution of parents, family and friends, teachers and mentors and all who helped bring each of you to the point of your great achievement – winning ‘the hurling’ for Limerick.
There can be no doubt that last year was a very proud year for Limerick, a year during which you held the McCarthy Cup high despite being ranked as seventh favourites to go all the way – behind Galway, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Clare. Today you are widely regarded as having one of the strongest squads in the game, a squad which includes Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch and Young Hurler of the Year Kyle Hayes.
For the rest of us, it was a great pleasure to witness the great joy and excitement your magnificent achievement brought to Limerick last year when you defeated defending champions Galway 3-16 to 2-18 at Croke Park in front of thousands of your delighted supporters who witnessed that historic moment and saw Limerick win the title that they had been seeking since 1973.
The raturous reception in Limerick itself, where tens of thousands of people lined the streets to welcome you home, was also a joyous occasion that brought a spirit of celebration to the county that lasted for many weeks.
We were greatly delighted when hurling was inscribed, last year, on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, recognising it as a critical element of our heritage to be safeguarded for future generations. I know some of you here played a key role in this important decision and I thank you for that, and welcome you very warmly here today.
Hurling is, of course, one of the oldest field games in the world and has been popular for at least 3000 years in Ireland. Indeed, its first literary reference dates back to 1272 BC, and it is often referenced in Irish myths and legends, most famously perhaps in the story of Cú Chullainn, who was so named after killing a fierce guard dog by driving a sliotair down its throat.
Hurling has remained an important part of the fabric of Irish society, played in towns and villages across the country, connecting neighbour to neighbour, promoting intergenerational solidarity among young and old and uniting a diverse and eclectic mix of people as they cheer together for their county. “Who do you shout for”? is often a greeting preferred to “where are you from?”!
Your achievement is one of which you can all be very proud. It is, of course, not an achievement that came lightly or easily. The road to great sporting success is always a challenging and often a difficult one. It is not a journey for the fainthearted. Those who seek accolades are required to put in the hard work, and to persevere through the setbacks and difficulties that so often stand between us and our goals.
Success is earned and those who have closely followed your journey to victory will have seen the sacrifices you have made and the relentless commitment you have always given to be the best you possibly can.
Equally impressive to witness is the special bond of friendship and the inspirational teamwork that I know has carried you through testing games and through training sessions on long cold Winter nights.
I know that most of you have full time and demanding jobs, and family and other commitments. You have had to therefore deal with the significant challenge of combining your careers, study or family lives with the intensive training necessary to succeed at the highest levels of sport. It is a challenge that places considerable demands on your time and energy, and one that requires enormous dedication and team spirit. For that you have, even more, our admiration.
While you as players are the ones who have to perform on the pitch on match days, there are many others who play their part as well.
Sports teams and clubs can only continue through the tireless work of volunteers, so many of whom are the friends and families of players. Whether it is organising fixtures, maintaining buildings and pitches, or fundraising – the dedication of volunteers is vital to sustaining our clubs in every parish and county on this island, and a growing number overseas.
I am sure that you will all agree that beside you and behind you from your earliest days were the people who willed you on to excellence.
They bought you your first hurley; they taught you how to catch and hit a sliotar; they stood on side-lines cheering you on; they analysed games so that you could do better next time; they marked the pitches you played on; ferried you to matches; cleaned your kit; organised training and they travelled the length and breadth of the country to see you play.
So, I thank the coaches, parents, friends and volunteers who played such an important part in bringing such glory to Limerick. I thank you for everything you have worked to achieve, the long hours, the training sessions, the willing on, the guidance, and the many sacrifices you had to make to be there for the team.
Of course, the excitement and enjoyment of Limerick’s win stretched far beyond the borders of that county, enthralling hurling enthusiasts up and down the country. It has also ensured that you have become inspiring role models for a new generation of young hurlers and thus you are playing a significant role in encouraging the participation of young people in sports. We know that participation in sport tends to decline in the teenage years, and that efforts must be made to ensure that children participate in sport from an early age on, through their education and on into their adult life.
I am, therefore, delighted to acknowledge and pay tribute to your role as athletes. By your example and your conduct, you are inspiring young people to participate in sport at all levels. That is so important, and I thank you for that.
Gabhaim buíochas libh, agus molaim sibh as bhur gcuid oibre agus as bhur dtiomantas, agus tá meas agus tacaíocht mhuintir Luimní tuilte agaibh dá bharr.
Finally, I would like to thank all those who have helped with this event. I especially welcome the Mulcahy Family; our Civil Defence First-Aiders; and the staff here at the Áras who have all worked so hard to make today a success.
In conclusion, agus mar fhocal scoir, may I reiterate my heartfelt welcome to all of you. I wish very enjoyable moments of shared playing together, and the very best in all of your future endeavours, on the hurling field and beyond.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.