The headband was taken off the door handle for the first time in two years. You know the ones, the woollen variety. The “two for €3”, “ah missus, give us three” kind.

In an epic weekend of Irish sport we were up the Saturday. All-Ireland semi, Limerick v Waterford. Game on.

The long-awaited return to – not just Croker – but anywhere. A match, in the flesh. Pinch me.

It had been a long hiatus. Without any deliberate consideration, we slotted back into the old routine seamlessly. Like an old, favourite jacket – it fit perfectly.

Old habits die hard

My father left west Limerick for my Kildare outpost at – wait for it – no less than 8.30am. Old habits die hard. In spite of my complaining, he was somewhat vindicated by bale-and-bridge-gate.

We ate the fry until we were fit to burst. You know the golden rule: “Eat enough, who knows when you’ll see food again.”

A hero. A legend. An ambassador for Irish sport

On the train in we chatted to a neighbour from home and in Dublin the girls arrived off the bus. We had a pint and bantered away with the Déise crowd. The one thing we all agreed on was that it was great to be out again.

Kellie Harrington country was passed through en route to the Cusack Stand. The posters of support were up in spades. Just hours later the Portland Row powerhouse would undoubtedly be the jewel in the crown of these unforgettable days. A hero. A legend. An ambassador for Irish sport.

In the stadium the 24,000 crowd somehow seemed like more. Whooping, hollering, jumping and leaping, fans on both sides made themselves known.

Hill 16 was empty. Turning to face the tricolour during Amhrán na bhFiann, we looked straight into it. My mind wondered to the last time I was in there. That never to be forgotten Sunday for us Treaty people in August 2018. (I’m trying my very best not to make this a love letter to Limerick hurling, but still, hon the Treaty!)

But, what was most striking in this context was the sheer amount of people packed into the Hill

I have a 10-second video on my phone that was taken just after the final whistle. Dreams by the Cranberries is playing. During the lockdowns, when we were all at home keeping our distance, I often watched it. And sure, it was to remember the glory days, the craic that was had and please God we might have more of it.

But, what was most striking in this context was the sheer amount of people packed into the Hill. The actual number of bodies wedged into that space. From where we were then, it was a wholly unimaginable concept. True, we’re not back there yet. But all the same, the once unreachable, feels almost within grasp.

I tried not to step beyond my brief in this column and offered, really, no meaningful analysis of this match. I’ll leave that to Denis Hurley in our sports column, who has a much less sentimental and much more informed report on the titanic Cork v Kilkenny battle that took place on the Sunday. But be warned, Denis is a Rebel. So Denis, all bets are off between you and I from here on in.

So, this was my weekend with my people, my community

In Living Life this week, Zak Moradi of Leitrim hurling’s 2019 Lory Meagher-winning team, speaks about his communities . Both his farming family in his native Iran and the Leitrim and Dublin GAA communities he’s part of.

So, this was my weekend with my people, my community. Whether it’s the football, the rugby or the soccer; the Ploughing, the Dublin Horse Show or the Donegal Rally – whatever you and your people are into – I hope you get back to that safely and in a meaningful way soon. It’s good for the soul. Now, I guess the only thing left to say is: any tickets?

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