THE Down team bus finally pulled away from the Citywest Hotel at about 1.20pm today but some of them will see the place again next month when the game’s great and good reconvene for the All-Stars banquet.
Marty Clarke and Danny Hughes are certs to make the final 15 and a handful of others will have earned nominations between now and then but all 30 were afforded unofficial status as stars this morning.
A trip to Newry and Pairc Esler awaited them but the healing process began first thing on the morning after with friends, relatives and general well-wishers converging on the team hotel to give thanks for a memorable summer.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the lobby in the Citywest on the morning after an All-Ireland final, just think back to your Debs night – and morning - and multiply the scene by a factor of ten.
People are either dressed to the nines (usually the wives and girlfriends) or bedraggled and well the worse for wear (usually the players). Bottles and pints pay no attention to the hours on the clock.
The main difference here was the presence of so many kids. Of all ages and sizes. The youngest to sport a red and black jersey was no more than 18 months old. What a story he will have when he reaches playground age.
Those able to walk and run did so with impunity, their own jerseys obscured more and more as the hours ticked by with the black ink scrawled across them by disappointed but endearingly polite players.
Some chose to preserve their shirts against the inevitability of Father Time and/or mammy’s washing machine by matching signatures to the match programme’s pen pics instead. Sunday’s result didn’t dampen their fervour.
That said, they were made bide their time.
Very few of their heroes made it down the main stairs before noon. Damian Rafferty did and was collared for comment from fans and reporters alike. Others begged mercy from the microphones.
Not Benny Coulter. Though visibly shattered, the Mayobridge man halted for a few words, all of them totally inadequate in expressing the bottomless pit of pain and disappointment. His face told us what his lips couldn’t.
Most of the panel milled about in their glad rags – nifty suits and matching shoes - drifting into a circle like cowboys circling wagons for comfort and relief from the well-meaning back slaps and sturdy hand shakes.
Marty Clarke wasn’t one of them. The county’s poster boy appeared and vanished just as quickly suit in hand. Those supporters who followed the Down coach up the M1 will be hoping his sojourn back in Ireland lasts a tad longer.